Sunday 21 January 2018

We're not a million miles away from Dubs' level, insists Tyrone's Sean Cavanagh

Sean Cavanagh: 'Look back a year and we made the league final and went into the Donegal game maybe ahead of ourselves. This year we're going in with our heads down a bit more.'. Photo: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE
Sean Cavanagh: 'Look back a year and we made the league final and went into the Donegal game maybe ahead of ourselves. This year we're going in with our heads down a bit more.'. Photo: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

Hindsight gives Tyrone some quiet confidence.

Save for the odd injury update, they haven't been seen or heard since their rip-roaring outing against Dublin in the final round of the league as they prepare for Sunday's Ulster championship opener against Down in Omagh.

Diarmuid Connolly's late point kept them out of the semi-finals, but what happened since paints Mickey Harte's side in a positive light.

After squeaking into the last four, Dublin went on to blitz Cork and Derry and win back-to-back league titles.

The subs looked awesome as they managed a 17-point swing against the Rebels.

Like Cork, Tyrone had seen Dublin in full flow.

Within five minutes of their clash in Omagh, Mickey Harte's men were seven points down, but crucially, they managed to halt the momentum.

Only a balletic Connolly point settled the tie in a performance that gives Tyrone veteran Sean Cavanagh cause for optimism.

"It was disappointing not the see ourselves in the last four, but you've seen what Dublin did to the teams when they got there, so we're not a million miles off," Cavanagh muses.

"But we have a bit of sharpening up to do in certain areas of the pitch."


It's a different scenario from 12 months ago when Tyrone had reached a league final and pushed the Dubs hard.

That performance saw a sense of false confidence pervade the Tyrone squad and a revved-up Donegal chipped away at the veneer.

"Look back a year and we made the league final and we went into the Donegal game maybe ahead of ourselves, thinking that because we had run Dublin close in the league final, we could go and get a result in Ballybofey, but that didn't work out," adds Cavanagh.

"This year we're in slightly different territory; we're going in with our heads down a bit more and with a bit more to prove to ourselves and people outside the camp as well. That's the mind frame we're in, with something to prove in Omagh."

Form suggests Tyrone's home tie against Down on Sunday should be a routine affair. Bizarrely, the team who lost the last two championship meetings between these sides have used the defeat as a springboard to bigger things.

In 2010, Down lost in Casement Park before popping up in that year's All-Ireland final. Before that, Tyrone were sent through the back door in 2008 after a replay, only to emerge as champions for the third time.

Tyrone have seen much change since, but they gathered some valuable experience in their run to an All-Ireland semi-final. And while injury ultimately derailed any chance of beating Mayo as they lost Stephen O'Neill, Peter Harte and Joe McMahon in the course of the game, their luck seems to have turned.

O'Neill's eight-month lay-off has ended in time for Sunday's game and even Kyle Coney, who has played just five minutes of Ulster championship football despite being part of the county set-up for five years now, is set to be available.

Their no-show against Kerry earlier this year, when they managed just a single point in the second half, seems a distant memory now. A most uncharacteristic Tyrone collapse was blamed on the introduction of the black card, but after a free-flowing, open league, Cavanagh expects a return to some of destructive tactics of the last few years later this summer.

"I don't think anyone's silly enough to think they can go out and play 15 v 15 and go toe to toe all the time, because they'll obviously get caught somewhere along the line," he says.

"What Dublin have done means that teams will open up some more, but I wouldn't think the era of the 10-man defence is gone at this stage. I think we'll certainly see plenty of them. You have to adapt and there'll be times in games when you'll be up against the tough defences and times when the game will open up and you have to adapt.

"I think it worked well during the league and I think everyone recognises that the scores that were put up in the league were brilliant.

"Referees in the league maybe gave it a wee bit of a pardon at times and there were challenges that deserved a black card that didn't get one and there was a grey area between what was a black card and a yellow card.

"I've seen it the last few weeks, particularly in club games, referees just don't understand what it is.

"As the bigger challenges come in in the championship with the packed defences, things get a wee bit riskier for teams. And with more on the line, I think it's going to be a big issue."

Irish Independent

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