Tuesday 12 November 2019

Cavanagh hails 'sweet' success on last day in Clones

Sean Cavanagh holds aloft the Anglo-Celt Cup for Tyrone after their Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship triumph over Down in Clones. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Sean Cavanagh holds aloft the Anglo-Celt Cup for Tyrone after their Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship triumph over Down in Clones. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

When Tyrone lost to Armagh in the 2014 qualifiers Seán Cavanagh admits going home that evening and crying for hours. He was captain and he felt an added responsibility.

In the intervening years he has challenged himself hard about the merits of staying on. Business, family and body could all have pointed him in the other direction.

But that nagging feeling that he should hang in has manifested in a 2015 All-Ireland semi-final against Kerry and now back-to-back Ulster titles. For Cavanagh, the persistence has been worth every ounce.

"After the last four or five years watching Donegal and Monaghan the joy certainly has not diminished and while last year was really sweet, this is no less so," he admitted.

It was Cavanagh's last Ulster Championship match at a venue where he has created so many memories.

This ended early for him, withdrawn after 48 minutes, but it didn't reduce the emotion of him on a day when he moved to within one of the 88 championship appearances made by Tomás and Marc ó Sé.

Mickey Harte with grand son Michael junior. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Mickey Harte with grand son Michael junior. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

"To stand here with my wife, my children and my brother is really, really special, this is what the GAA is all about, knowing that we are going to have these memories in the years to come," he said.

"Hot sunny days in Clones are a memory for me. I remember standing on the hill in 1995 and I grew up with that memory.

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"As you come to the end of your career, you look to leave a legacy and leave the jersey in a better place. I got the jersey in 2002 and it was in a good place at the time so it is nice to pass it onto a new generation."

To amass such a number of appearances was "humbling", he admitted. "I could nearly count you through every minute of every game. It is sad to think that it is coming to an end but I have had an amazing career and to walk away on a sunny day like this in Clones is a memory I will take into retirement."

On the immediate future however there is definite focus.

"We have a bit of work to do yet, we have done well in Ulster. It feels like we are almost there. You are never sure until you are put to the pin of your collar. The one worry is that has not happened yet, but we know that is coming.

"We have seen the three games out relatively comfortably but we know that every day will not be like this and we will face tougher tests when we got to Croke Park, but hopefully we will have learned the lessons of last year when we were not ready for Mayo's intensity and quality."

Cavanagh saw familiarity between all three Ulster Championship matches. "We knew that there was going to be needle in the game and it was there in the first half. We have been in a few battles like this in the past but we have the experience now that it was going to open up and that happened in the third quarter.

"It is sweet when you can get the job done and it was similar to the Derry/Donegal performances in that after 50 minutes, we knew that were able to push on and that we had the players on the bench to finish the job off."

It was a theme picked up on by his manager Mickey Harte afterwards too and the sense of unfinished business was palpable among them all.

"You got to Croke Park as Ulster champions and you don't win, that's unfinished business. It's an awful place to be after winning a provincial final. That's a step at a time job."

Harte has never taken any competition lightly as a manager and silverware marks something tangible for him.

Focused "We fall too often in a quarter-final for our own good. We need to be very focused in what we're about and prepare for this quarter-final. It's an awful place to go out after you have just won a provincial title. It's not a place you want to be so we will be very focused for the next couple of weeks until we play that game."

But he feels they are heading in the right direction.

"The team has been maturing over the last couple of years and they are getting better. But we have to get better to do better than we have been doing.

"If the improvement is enough to bring us to where we want to go, time will tell. But we're pointing in the right direction. It's important to win games, win trophies and it's important to consolidate our position as the best team in Ulster."

Down manager Eamonn Burns was happy with the strength of their finish.

"We kept battling to the end, we didn't throw the towel in. So that will stand us in good stead," he reflected.

"The other thing we have to factor in is that was our first time in an Ulster final. Tyrone, some of those boys it was their second or even their fourth. All those things come to play but I have to say, I am very proud of them."

Burns felt they were too "tentative" in the opening half but opened up after that.

"They are not stunned. When you look at the scoreline, they scored 19 times, we scored 15 times, there is not a massive gulf in that. The two goals were crucial and goals win you games."

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