Saturday 16 November 2019

Harte hails Cavanagh's 'absolute leadership'

Tyrone 0-17 Meath 2-9

Sean Cavanagh gets a shot away despite the efforts of Meath's Conor Gillespie
Sean Cavanagh gets a shot away despite the efforts of Meath's Conor Gillespie
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Mickey Harte quantified afterwards how good Sean Cavanagh had been.

Mickey Harte quantified afterwards how good Sean Cavanagh had been.

"Probably as good a game as I've ever seen him play and I've seen him play lots of them," suggested Harte of the former Footballer of the Year.

Taking his five-point 2008 All-Ireland final tour de force against Kerry into consideration, that's quite a statement from Harte.

But for the manager it had been the "absolute leadership" he had shown, and he invoked the memory of a blessed trinity of former stars and colleagues of Cavanagh to make his point.

"He was probably Brian Dooher and Peter Canavan and Brian McGuigan all rolled into one today. He just did the things that needed to be done and did them with authority and did them for the 70 minutes.

"Whenever the team was struggling, he just broke the line. He took on responsibility. He didn't ask anything of the players, he said 'look at me go.' That's really what he did," acknowledged Harte.

"That was the biggest thing of all. Because the way he played in the first half, you thought he'll never be able to stick this again for another 35 minutes. He just made a huge difference to the whole affair."

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Cavanagh got on the ball 22 times, but the impact and distance covered of some of the runs he embarked on made it feel like it was even more.


He knew he had the upper hand on an opposing midfield partnership for mobility and sought, invariably with success, to press home that advantage.

Twice in the second quarter he executed his trademark shimmy to fire over two points. Like Gooch's mesmerising bounce, it's a unique skill of the summer.

For opponents it's a nightmare. They know what's coming when he starts shuffling his feet and tilts his body to feign a move to his left. But no matter how much they plan for it and promise to keep him on his left, his legs invariably work faster than any brain and off he goes. Once Conor Gillespie did manage to keep him on his left and he dropped a shot short into Paddy O'Rourke's arms as a consequence.

How do you counter it, Harte was asked afterwards.

"Even his own players in training know he is going to do it and he can still do it," he said. "It's just a unique skill that he has. One man can't stop him. It takes maybe a second or a third man to stop it."

But Cavanagh's responsibility from frees was also paramount to their success. Six shots, six points. The last was from a distance and a difficult angle – a free that incensed Meath as Kevin Reilly was adjudged to have pushed substitute Kyle Coney. It was a magnificent effort under pressure.

They were superior for most of the first half. Joe McMahon, Conor Gormley and Peter Harte had the area behind their midfield in lockdown, Ciaran McGinley had the measure of Graham Reilly and the supply into Mickey Newman was a trickle.

Newman still managed to get in front to pop a pass off a Gillespie delivery into Eamon Wallace on six minutes. Within a few strides he was clear of two chasers. The finish was low and deceived Packie McConnell and Meath suddenly had a nice early lead to protect.

But even leaving Padraic Harnan behind as a sweeper, as Gormley was deployed in a similar role for Tyrone, couldn't give them that security. Matthew Donnelly was the perfect pillion passenger for Cavanagh around the middle and showed loads of composure in that opening half, scoring two points himself.

Tyrone led by 0-11 to 1-4 and were comfortable. But within minutes of the restart it was a real battle again. Newman grew in prominence and his telepathy with Wallace – he laid on 1-2 for him – is a really exciting development for Meath.

He combined with Seamus Kenny, who won a penalty in the 39th minute when Gormley hacked him down. Referee Maurice Deegan was satisfied it happened in the square and Newman converted in style to cut the gap to one point, 0-12 to 2-5.

Wallace had Meath ahead with two points by the 51st minute but Tyrone held their nerve and four successive points from substitute Aidan Cassidy, Cavanagh (free) and Darren McCurry (two, one free) between the 53rd and 58th minutes gave them breathing space.

Meath still had chances and even at the end could possibly have picked off points to force a draw instead of seeking goals. It was "heart attack stuff," acknowledged the Tyrone manager, who conceded a similar performance would not propel them much further.

Meath manager Mick O'Dowd can feel justification for a progressive season and the development of Newman and Wallace in particular. But new candidates for some key central positions are still required if they are to take another step. Only three players scored and that was a disappointment for him.

"It's hard when you're coming up against a seven or eight-man defence but the forwards will be disappointed that there wasn't a bigger scoring spread," he said.

"When we look back on it, we'll regret the first half particularly. We weren't happy with ourselves going in at half-time. There were a couple of chances in the second half that we could and should have taken.

"They would have certainly helped. But in fairness, Tyrone kicked 17 scores and we kicked 11. That's the difference."

However, he felt the broader picture was that they had stirred something in the county.

"One of the things that we've achieved this year is that we've reconnected with the Meath people," he said. "People believe in this team again and that was an important step that had to be made this year. So we're happy with that."

Scorers – Tyrone: S Cavanagh 0-8 (6fs), D McCurry 0-5 (3fs, 1 '45'), Matthew Donnelly 0-2, S O'Neill, A Cassidy 0-1 each. Meath: M Newman 1-5 (1-0 pen, 4fs, 1 '45'), E Wallace 1-3, S Bray 0-1.

Tyrone – P McConnell 7; R McKenna 6, C McCarron 6, C Clarke 7; C McGinley 8, J McMahon 7, P Harte 7; C Cavanagh 6, S Cavanagh 9; Matthew Donnelly 8, Martin Penrose 6, Mark Donnelly 6; D McCurry 7, S O'Neill 7, C Gormley 7. Subs: A Cassidy 7 for Mark Donnelly (h-t), D Carlin 7 for McKenna (50), K Coney for Penrose (65), P McNiece for C Cavanagh (69).

Meath – P O'Rourke 7; M Burke 7, K Reilly 6, D Keogan 7; B Menton 8, P Harnan 6, S Kenny 6; B Meade 6, C Gillespie 6; D Carroll 5, J Sheridan 5, G Reilly 5; M Newman 8, S Bray 7, E Wallace 8. Subs: B Farrell 5 for Sheridan (42), P Byrne 5 for Carroll (50), A Tormey 5 for Meade (53), C Lenihan for Kenny (67).

Ref – M Deegan (Laois).

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