'It's what Michaela would have wanted'
Cavanagh vows Tyrone will soldier on despite tragic loss
IT'S regrettably familiar territory for Tyrone as they begin another season overshadowed by loss at Celtic Park in Derry on Sunday.
The tragic death of Mickey Harte's daughter Michaela will forever be associated with the fortunes of Tyrone in 2011. They've been unfortunate enough to have been in this position before after the deaths of Paul McGirr and Cormac McAnallen, but Sean Cavanagh believes the county's return to action was the right thing to do.
"It brought us back to Cormac in 2004," said the Moy man. "You were pulling on the boots and thinking 'Is this right, what do I do?' But once you get back out once or twice it almost helps you to get back to some sort of normality.
"You realise the support that is there for Mickey, his family and the whole of Tyrone GAA at times like this. You realise that the GAA is a massive family circle and the crowds that were there helped us get through it.
"Mickey obviously gave us his blessing to get out on the Thursday night after it happened, and we got out and did a bit of training. It's hard to use the word lucky, but we were lucky that we have been through experiences like this before and we know that we have to get back together and it's the best thing for us.
"Mickey wanted it and it's what Michaela would have wanted -- she would have loved nothing else than to have been at those matches supporting us. We have another angel in heaven to hopefully drive us on this year."
Despite the tragedy, Harte has attended all three of Tyrone's pre-season games so far this year and Cavanagh still sees a passion for football in the Tyrone manager.
"There's no getting over something like that, but Mickey has been to so many dark places with other tragedies and has been so strong. He is a strong character of a man anyway.
"He was at the three games last week and you can see that he is getting a wee bit of his appetite back. Obviously it will take time for him to get it fully back, but he has good men in Tony Donnelly and Fergal McCann. He was there last week and you can certainly see that his will to win hasn't diminished."
Tyrone showed no sign of rustiness in their rescheduled McKenna Cup campaign, which saw them play three matches in six days as they beat Donegal, Fermanagh and UUJ.
Cavanagh has been restored to his favoured position in midfield and the move looks to be paying dividends as he has landed 13 points so far. Sunday's Division 2 clash will be his first league match outside of the top flight -- Tyrone were relegated on score difference last season.
"(Relegation) was massively disappointing," said Cavanagh. "I can still remember sitting on the Omagh pitch and looking at guys and thinking, 'what's happened here?'
"Ever since I started playing in 2002 we were always a Division 1 team. It was a shock to the system but we made our bed and we had to get on with it.
"We said that day in the Omagh dressing-rooms that we wanted to get back to Division 1 and that redemption starts on Sunday."
Derry have blazed a trail through the McKenna Cup under new manager John Brennan. Only Cavan managed to lay a glove on them, with Paddy Bradley looking rejuvenated.
There have been false dawns before in the Oak Leaf county but no matter how good or bad their form is in the run-up to a game with Tyrone, they usually raise themselves for the visit of Harte's side.
"We got the three wins we needed in the McKenna Cup, but that's only the start and on Sunday it'll be a different story," said Cavanagh. "We'll be going to the white heat of Celtic Park and we haven't won there since 1984 so it's quite a challenge. We have never shied away from a challenge before and Sunday will be no different."
Overcoming challenges has been the hallmark of this Tyrone team, many of whom go back to the breakthrough All-Ireland success of 2003 and to minor and U-21 sides before that. Football has always been what brings them back together, as will be the case in Derry on Sunday.
"This group of players has been through Paul McGirr and Cormac before and this is another dark chapter in all our lives," said Cavanagh.
"But we realise that life goes on and football goes on and you have to get back to some sort of reality. Mickey realises that himself and he gave us his blessing to go ahead and that's what we're doing.
"Hopefully it's another thing that will bond us together and we'll have another reason to go on and achieve success on the field."