Curious Colm Cavanagh drawn to fuel of online criticism for improvement
Recognition as one of Tyrone football's pillars has come with a second consecutive All-Star for Colm Cavanagh and an acknowledgement that he has a lot to be thankful for.
It may not be in the 'Indian summer' category but, at 31, he knows time is not generously on his side. It's 11 years since he made his championship debut but it's only in more recent times that he has felt close to his potential after a "bothersome" start to inter-county life, underpinned by the difficulty of breaking into an established team, injury and no shortage of criticism.
Cavanagh often felt the chill winds of being in the slipstream of a more decorated sibling, older brother Seán, in those early years. But rather than allow it to get under him he used it to his advantage, actively seeking online criticism as a tool to motivate him.
"I've a lot to be thankful for," he accepts, "because I've seen the other side, I've seen the early stages of not doing so well and getting a wee bit of criticism, 'Oh he's only on now because Seán's there'."
So, in an age before social media had caught on, he'd take to perusing online forums to see what was being said about him.
"That was the curiosity of me. I'd have had no problem reading it. I'm thick-skinned, I can take it when it's warranted. But I would have gone looking for it. I'm a stubborn enough sort of guy so anything like that that was said about me I was like, 'Well, I'll tell you what, I'll show you what I can do.'
"It did annoy me but at the same token I read it and didn't say, 'Oh this is really getting to me.' I'd just go, 'You know what, I'm away to the gym here or down to the pitch here and get to where I need to be.'
"It's just having that focused, determined head on me during all those years. Don't get me wrong, you read stuff and you do feel a wee bit disappointed."
His positioning as a defensive midfielder has advanced his development and while there was criticism of his selection in defence for the 2018 PwC GAA/GPA All-Star team, some of his best moments came in that role, notably his late tackle on Monaghan's Jack McCarron.
That, he says, was the outcome of knowing McCarron's game and what he was likely to do, part of the advancement of coaching and analysis in the game.
"There is that much footage out there so you are analysing players and teams and patterns and how people are playing. You have to know that someone has a dummy or someone is going to try and step inside you and that's the time to get him. The availability of previous games and being able to, with technology, break players' individual play down is probably way ahead of what it would have been."
His tackling ability has improved too from the player who, in a 2009 league match to celebrate the GAA's 125th year against Dublin, was yellow-carded and replaced (as per the rules for that league) for a tackle on Dublin's Bryan Cullen within minutes of coming on.
"I was probably a reckless enough tackler at that time. I was all blood and thunder. You probably weren't coached back then in terms of the finer details of tackling.
"I probably refer back to the Dublin lads because they are up there. You watch the way they tackle. I love basketball and I believe they have had a basketball coach with them at some stage and the way they tackle and back off you, they very rarely will foul you unless they need to. The way they are coached to stand off, to get the hand in and get back out again, I love that."
His role may well change in the coming year, he acknowledges, because Tyrone simply must change if they are to bridge the gap with Dublin.
The addition of an attacking mark is an idea he can warm to, having appreciated the kick-out mark over the last two years. It was his catch in the goalmouth and subsequent foul by Philly McMahon that led to Tyrone's All-Ireland final penalty and that could give Mickey Harte some food for thought next year.
"I'm not a forward but I like the idea. You're nearly rewarding the inside forward for winning a good ball," he says, despite its AFL veneer. "But if that rule did come in you could see a shift in personnel and who is going to be up front you may want to put bigger men in and encourage kicking the ball. That's the advantage but I think there's so many (rules) in one go here, it would be mad."
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