Cavanagh promises Donegal hot reception
ALL-IRELAND champions Donegal are set for a torrid time when they face Tyrone in the Allianz National Football League in Omagh on Sunday.
That's the promise of Tyrone star Sean Cavanagh as he looks forward to a mouth-watering contest that is sure to draw the crowds to Healy Park.
Cavanagh smiled wryly as he recalled the era when his county were top dogs and they had the chasing pack endeavouring to bring them to heel.
But those days are gone and now it's Donegal strutting their stuff and proudly carrying the mantle of champions.
"It's challenging because it is different. Over the last number of years and for most of my inter-county career, teams have been trying to catch us. It's a completely different scenario now.
"It probably is a bit more challenging trying to catch up with another team and trying to pit yourself against the best because we have to recognise we haven't been in the best five or six teams in Ireland in the last few years.
"But I know from looking at some of the guys we have coming through and with some of the guys we have back from injury that we have a really good squad, so it's just a matter of trying to play to the best of our abilities.
"We're reasonably confident we'll be able to cope well with the best of them, but it starts next Sunday."
Changed times, indeed, but the visit of Donegal is just the fillip Mickey Harte's men need as they resume their leage campaign.
Cavanagh promised that the champions will get respect, but he hopes they return to Tir Conaill with precious little else from the game.
"We've been on the other side a few times with teams trying to knock us off the perch, so we know what it's like," he said.
This is an ideal opportunity for unbeaten Tyrone to lay down a marker in advance of the high-stakes Ulster championship showdown on May 26.
The respective managers may play down the significance of a league meeting, but as Cavanagh pointed out, the winning and losing of these matches in the spring can provide a base for future achievement.
"A couple of years ago they came up to Healy Park and they beat us well and that was the start of the Donegal momentum under Jim McGuinness," recalled Cavanagh.
"Ever since then, they've pushed on and they probably used that as a bit of a springboard. We've had to go away and regroup and we've a number of new players on the team.
"Next Sunday will probably be a bit of an acid test for us. It's a game we're massively looking forward to and I would imagine it will be a fantastic day in Omagh," he added.
Outsiders will be fascinated by the battle of wills between the respective managers, who have proven themselves master tacticians.
The players will be primed to carry out their instructions and Cavanagh expects that his boss can come up with the answers to the problems Donegal pose for opponents.
"It almost brings us back to 2002 and watching Joe Kernan with Armagh. I remember Armagh coming to Healy Park and there might have been 15,000 at the match. The place was buzzing and we managed to win that game that day.
"It's the same with Jimmy (McGuinness). You have that master tactician analogy.
"We'll have our work cut out next Sunday, but there's no better man than Mickey to try and put a plan together to derail this Donegal system and he certainly will enjoy trying to do that," said Cavanagh.
A four-time All Star and winner of three All-Ireland medals, Cavanagh is grateful he is still playing.
He has missed chunks of the last few years due to serious shoulder problems that required surgery. The last one, which kept him out of the serious action in 2012, was 'career threatening,' but now he's fit and raring to go.
"Yeah, every time I go to training, every time I go to a strength and conditioning session, I'm enjoying it, I'm loving it.
"When you cross that threshold into your 30s, you realise you just don't know what's going to happen.
"The way my injuries have gone in the last couple of years, you realise you just don't know how long you've got left in football, so you have to appreciate every single game and every single chance you get to play," said Cavanagh.
Incidentally, reports that Owen Mulligan is poised for a return to the Tyrone squad may be premature. A Tyrone official said yesterday that Mulligan played in an in-house match last Thursday, but that there was no decision yet as to his future or otherwise with the panel.