'We couldn't have given any more'
But Cavanagh insists Tyrone can be a major force once again
Seán Cavanagh is still rooting through the texts, tweets and letters wishing him well on the end of a glorious career.
So much has happened since the curtain came down on his inter-county days that he hasn't had time to digest his new place in the world. His full title now reads something like 'former Tyrone footballer Seán Cavanagh' but it still doesn't seem real.
"My phone was blowing up for a couple of days," he said of the aftermath of Tyrone's defeat to Dublin.
"Once you read some of those you go into a very humble mode because you don't realise when you're in that bubble how you're able to influence people's lives and make people happy. To have some of the messages was really nice. I've kept some of them. It was just that feeling of I've given it all I have."
There's no suggestion there's any chance of a U-turn. Returning for the 2017 season was his encore and there'll be no more after that.
Things will change now but there'll be little let-up. He reckons he'll play with Moy more, eat pizza and take more holidays and devote more time to work. There have been offers of media work he's keen to take up too.
Cavanagh is in Dublin to promote the Volkswagen All-Ireland Senior Football Sevens tournament which takes place in Kilmacud Crokes' grounds on Saturday week. The night before, the Tyrone squad gathered for their season debrief, his last official act as a county footballer.
"We had a reflection meeting last night up in Garvaghey and I got to say my goodbyes again, gave a few words to the group, a few parting words."
It seems strange but Cavanagh insists there was some solace in the way his career ended.
He wasn't afforded a fairytale ending in the way Alan Brogan or Darragh ó Sé were but he got to go on his own terms. He'd seen enough good players suffer ignominious ends to know his departure was noble.
"It was nice to be able to walk away in Croke Park, walk away on a big day in Dublin," he said.
"I suppose I've seen so many of my team-mates walk away in bad circumstances, being dropped from the panel, going away in McKenna Cup matches, and so many really top-class footballers that I played with didn't get their chance to say their goodbyes and to walk away.
"To have my kids and family there in Croke Park, against Dublin, full house, it's not the perfect fairytale because that would have been with Sam Maguire in my hands in the third week of September but it still wasn't bad. I think as time goes on I'll know that it's been good. It's been a good ride."
Cavanagh departs the stage and leaves Tyrone in something of a flux. The future of long-serving manager Mickey Harte is a point of debate in the county.
"My honest opinion is that Mickey has built a new team. I know we didn't perform the way we should have done last Sunday but unless there's some one better available to come and do his job, there's no reason why he wouldn't continue. I know he's already making plans for 2018 so I feel he'll continue for sure."
The team itself also face into an uncertain winter. They went into the Dublin game believing the were ready to topple Dublin and win an All-Ireland. They left Croke Park knowing they still have a way to go.
"We know we trained ourselves to the bitter end in the past eight or nine months and we were able to walk away and know we couldn't have given any more.
"We couldn't have committed any more in terms of our time and our efforts, but you were walking away thinking, 'Those Dublin players are still five or 10pc stronger, faster and fitter'.
"Sometimes within a game you can think that the circumstances of the game can dictate and the team losing will always look un-fitter. But still I felt, 'Nah, these Dublin guys are something new.'"
Closing the gap is someone else's fight now. Sixteen years gone by in a flash. There might be time for one more swansong with the International Rules team but life looks like it might get in the way.
"I was talking to Joe (Kernan) and that will be determined by a few different things. At this stage I've told him we'll see how things go, but if it works out I'd obviously love to be there.
"It's something that I've always loved doing. But my wife Fionnuala is 28 weeks pregnant and the club championship is starting this weekend and I have a business to run as well. There's an awful lot of plates spinning but if it worked out, it would obviously be amazing.
"After 16 years of avoiding my family if there's a new kid on the road and if there's a flight to Australia to be caught, I think I'll have to hang around for the new kid."
All has changed but the world keeps spinning.