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Pictured at the launch of Newstalk 106-108 fm's coverage schedule of the 2013 GAA All-Ireland Senior Championships Felix Fitzgerald, age 3, from Aughrim, Co. Wicklow, interviewing Tyrone's Sean Cavanagh. Picture: Brian Lawless / SPORTSFILE

Pictured at the launch of Newstalk 106-108 fm's coverage schedule of the 2013 GAA All-Ireland Senior Championships Felix Fitzgerald, age 3, from Aughrim, Co. Wicklow, interviewing Tyrone's Sean Cavanagh. Picture: Brian Lawless / SPORTSFILE

Pictured at the launch of Newstalk 106-108 fm's coverage schedule of the 2013 GAA All-Ireland Senior Championships Felix Fitzgerald, age 3, from Aughrim, Co. Wicklow, interviewing Tyrone's Sean Cavanagh. Picture: Brian Lawless / SPORTSFILE

PURISTS look away now as the realist in Seán Cavanagh offers a grainy, dark and bleak prediction of Sunday's heavyweight Ulster opener between Tyrone and Donegal in Ballybofey.

"It's going to be negative," he says with an air of both acceptance and anticipation.

"You'll have no time on the ball and it'll be sticky ... you're going into a full house and a white hot atmosphere and it'll be tactical game."

And there's more ...

 

IMPORTANT

"On Sunday, making tackles are probably going to be more important than kicking points.

"Sunday's game could be a nine/eight or a ten/nine," he shrugs, before adding the smiley face on a particularly colourful and cheery picture.

"There'll probably be a lot of off-the-ball stuff going on. That's not saying that it will be always Donegal, but it will be a difficult game to referee.

"It's going to be hard and he (referee Joe McQuillan) is going to need plenty of help from sideline officials and umpires."

Sounds like buckets of fun, doesn't it?

But if forewarned is forearmed, Cavanagh and Tyrone are certainly both.

Twice in successive years they have succumbed to Donegal in Ulster and it would, surely, resemble an ugly blotch on Cavanagh's and Mickey Harte's career copybooks to go down a third time to a team against whom they have built quite a spiteful rivalry of late.

"All you have to do is look back at the game in Clones last year and it was more about the tactical end of things," he points out.

"You were watching the switches and where the sweepers were and what not and I have no doubt Sunday will be the same."

Because – make no mistake about it – those going to Ballybofey on Sunday are expecting a war and the players involved, it appears, are far from reluctant soldiers.

"Whenever you're a player and you hear people chatting about things like that," he says, "we know as players it's going to be frantic and fast-paced.

"And we're are going to have be like that if we are going to compete because Donegal have blown teams away in the last couple of years playing like that.

"We are going to have to match their intensity, tackling rates and fast breaks as well."

Yet despite all these frank admissions of, and refusal to downplay, the attritional billing the match has attained, Cavanagh visibly aches for it.

"I sat out all last year watching Championship games, pulling my hair out," he recalls of the shoulder injury which ruined his 2012.

"I promised myself then that I would enjoy every game I pull on a Tyrone jersey and I have done that so far this year and Sunday is the first chance to get Championship football since 2011 for me and I am just mad keen to get out there."

Quite what to expect tactically is largely a mystery and therein lie much of the intrigue.

Donegal, as All-Ireland champions, reserved and exercised their right to a lethargic spring and given that he did it in every match that mattered last year, the suspicion is that Jim McGuinness will pull a strategic rabbit from his hat on Sunday.

Tyrone, by Mickey Harte's own admission, attempted to beat Donegal by playing them very closely at their own game, a ploy which left them just two points short on a day when they used five different freetakers as that particular facet of their game malfunctioned.

Enter Niall Morgan, the goalkeeper eclipsing even Stephen Cluxton's penchant for long-range free-taking.

"He is a fantastic free-taker and a massive asset to our attacking abilities," Cavanagh stresses.

"He can kick points from 60 metres, he does it every night in training."

 

IRE

Morgan, 21, wont have experienced the sort of boiling atmosphere Ballybofey will hold and no doubt, his journey for Tyrone's goal to the position of the free will become the focal point for much of the Donegal supporter's ire.

He doesn't, however, seem like the sort of man overly concerned by such matter.

"You can never say never," Cavanagh shrugs, "he is a young lad, but he has got serious talent and serious skill.

"The soccer guys would tell you exactly the same, he's just a perfect goalkeeper.

"He's a brilliant shot-stopper and he could probably play out the field as well.

"You see him in training and he has no problem kicking ball around me."

Cavangh adds, intriguingly: "He told me that he wanted to score from play at some stage during this year as well, and that's not a joke."

To do it in the claustrophobic, fiery surrounds of Ballybofey this Sunday afternoon would be some trick all the same.


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