'We'll drive on with new faces' - Sean Cavanagh
Cavanagh convinced Tyrone future is rosy despite retirement hints from top players
ENOUGH time has passed, Sean Cavanagh reckons, for some honest reflection.
He insists 2013 has shown enough to suggest Tyrone are almost back at the very summit of Gaelic football, but next year's team will be shorn of some hardened veterans. The likes of Stephen O'Neill, Pascal McConnell, Joe McMahon and Conor Gormley have all hinted that their time could be up.
"There certainly won't be all of them next year," he says. "They have all half mentioned the word retirement and to get them all back we would be very lucky. I'm pretty confident a couple of them will probably drop off.
"But teams will always change, a few years ago we never thought we could ever compete without Peter Canavan, but we won an All-Ireland without him and we are back close to the top again," said Cavanagh, who was taking part in 'The Topaz Test' which aims to encourage more efficient motoring. "There'll always be talent in Tyrone, it's just a matter of trying to get it together when we need it most."
Too much talent was laid up when Tyrone crashed out to Mayo in the All-Ireland semi-final. O'Neill, the captain, was injured. Peter Harte's ability to get beyond defenders was key to the game plan, but he too was in the stands after also being injured. Without those interventions, Cavanagh believes "we'd be having a different conversation now. With both gone, the boot was taken off Mayo's throat.
"That sucked the life out of us a wee bit and maybe some of the younger guys didn't believe. It will do us no harm. They will have learned from that experience, but for the older guys it is possibly a chance missed."
At times, Cavanagh's form this season stirred memories of 2008 when he was named Footballer of the Year.
He has put in more minutes on the pitch than any other Tyrone player in 2013. The endurance runs and sprints saw him hold his own and he's a strong contender to partner Aidan O'Shea in midfield when the All Stars are announced in November.
However, his name was in lights this year for a much different reason. It was one of the most memorable moments of the championship. Joe Brolly in full flight, taking Cavanagh and Tyrone to task after their quarter-final victory over Monaghan, Pat Spillane and Colm O'Rourke trying in vain to get a word in.
Brolly's tirade came a little over a month shy of the 10-year anniversary of Spillane's infamous "puke football" comment and Tyrone were in the cross hairs again. arguably more significant, though, was the fact that their most influential player across their three All-Ireland wins, had been singled out.
Cavanagh still hasn't watched the match. He doesn't re-watch games, you see, and never has. But as he settled in that Sunday night, a little 'Brolly' curiosity bit and 'The Sunday Game' was flicked on.
"on the Sunday night myself and the wife had obviously heard about it via texts and we sat and watched 'the Sunday Game' and, to be honest, we had a good giggle at it."
More than a decade in the front line means that being in the headlines, for whatever reason, doesn't phase him. After all, this was the man who earlier this year had sent his passport off to Twitter HQ in California to get a bogus account in his name pulled down.
People's interest in him generally seems to amuse rather than annoy. But when the story was still featuring in radio shows on the Tuesday and Wednesday of that week, it became too much for some close to him.
"I never realised it had gone to those levels until a few days after that and my family were getting very annoyed.
"I'd be landing up to my mother and then she'd be in tears and you're thinking, 'Oh God'. It annoyed some people close to me. That was the disappointing thing. Some lads from the club were seething. My dad was threatening all sorts and I was just hoping he wouldn't run into Joe Brolly at some stage down the line.
"It probably would have annoyed me had we lost the game.
"It was an instinctive thing I did at the time and, if I was in that situation again and the game had to be won, I would probably do the exact same.
"I'm not a dirty player, I would never, ever try and hurt a player intentionally – and there's a lot of that that goes on off the ball. People leave in elbows and knees in tackles, but I have never done that and I pride myself on that."
He'll most likely be back with Tyrone next year, but won't commit completely just yet. His wife, Fionnuala, works as a doctor and she has put plenty on hold as he has pursued his football.
She understands, she hails from a football family – her brother Charlie Vernon plays with Armagh – but with two girls under the age of two, home is demanding more of his time.
Work as an accountant is hectic too. This year, he found himself arriving home from matches on Sunday nights and getting stuck into work that just had to be done before Monday morning.
"I have turned 30 and everyone takes it year on year when you're 30.
"My wife's sister has a husband who is in London for work and she jokes that he sees more of the kids than I do.
"I might not see the kids for four or five days in a row. It does become tough and it's out of respect to my wife to say I'll see where I'm at. I'll think about it anyway."