Tuesday 23 July 2019

'No one knows where Tyrone are at' - Sean Cavanagh hoping to see impact of Stephen O'Neill in Red Hand attack

Cavanagh: ‘No one knows where Tyrone are at’. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Cavanagh: ‘No one knows where Tyrone are at’. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

For all but one of Sean Cavanagh's 16 seasons with Tyrone, he served the one master and the former Red Hand captain knows a little more about Mickey Harte than most.

"Mickey's certainly the boss," Cavanagh responds when asked whether players have an input in team meetings. "No, no, you don't stand up, no. Mickey's very single-minded in his approach and I think anyone who knows him (feels the same)."

Cavanagh details "quite an autocratic style" of leadership during Harte's lengthy reign and doubts whether Tyrone will adopt a more attacking approach against Monaghan following their harrowing All-Ireland SFC semi-final loss to Dublin last August.

Former Footballer of the Year Stephen O'Neill was drafted into the backroom team by Harte to add a fresh attacking impetus and his influence has been lauded but Cavanagh questions whether they will revert to type when the pressure comes on.

"I've heard decent reports that Stevie's having a bit of input on the training ground so you would hope that that's starting to show. Some of the scores they put up during the league, you would hope that's the hallmarks of that work," the Moy clubman says.

"Sunday will tell the tale. It's only when you're put into that championship game where Mickey feels threatened, it'll be interesting to see if he reverts to what he knows or whether he goes and pushes that bit more.

"No one really knows exactly where this Tyrone team is at the moment. Most people don't like the idea of Tyrone continuing to defend as much as we had been doing, so everyone is waiting on unleashing another couple of attackers or a new formation."

Would he have sacrificed an Ulster title to play more expansive football?

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"It's easy to say it now but at the time, genuinely, and this is the big thing, when you're an inter-county footballer, and Mickey is a very convincing manager as well, whenever you're in that zone, you think nothing else but what Mickey is telling you.

"It's only on reflection afterwards that you realise that you would have liked maybe to try something different. At the time I was 100pc convinced that we'd win an All-Ireland last year.

"I'm getting to see with the bit of media work that I'm doing, you realise that as a player you take offence so easily. When someone tries to run down your team or you personally, you think automatically and assume they're out to get you and have an agenda.

"When you take a step back out of it all you do see the other see and realise that it's not always the case and that some people outside of your bubble are right and you're not right."


The five-time All-Star expects a cagey affair similar to last Sunday's Galway/Mayo slugfest with exciting attackers Lee Brennan and Mark Bradley likely to lead the line against the Farney men in the Ulster SFC quarter-final tie on home soil in Omagh.

His former team-mate Conor Gormley was firm in his belief that the Red Hand are lacking marquee forwards but Cavanagh disagrees and feels many quality attackers have gone by the wayside as a result of the system employed, name-checking the likes of Ronan O'Neill, Darren McCurry, Kyle Coney and Niall McKenna.

"We haven't really played with any structure in the forward unit, that's probably the best way of putting it. There's been a flood of guys who probably have suffered because we haven't played with six attackers," the 35-year-old outlines.

"And some of those guys have obviously fallen away and aren't on the panel anymore. That's probably not all their own fault. If I'm honest, it's just the way the system, or the type of football, has gone. Some of those type of players have suffered.

"Some of those guys I would have called marquee, and thought they would be marquee. But because they never had that room to breathe and because some of them couldn't cope with having to spend more time on the bench, because we were going towards a certain type of player, they struggled.

"They were victims of the system, that's exactly what they were. It's sad that, because some of them have as much talent or possibly more talent than some of the older (guys), the guys that were on some of the older teams that myself and Conor played on.

"But they just haven't been given that opportunity to play, which is just tough. Quite a number of those players are forward players that have gone through confidence issues that if they'd been playing in a system that....you know, Tyrone naturally don't kick the ball much.

"And then being pulled ashore and fall down the pecking order. They're all there and you should see some of the stuff they do at training but unfortunately they don't have the confidence or don't have the... are maybe not stuck with the same way when the game would be 15 v 15.

"When things aren't going well there's a temptation for Mickey to go for a different style of player, a style of player that works hard and labours around the midfield and that can run the ball quick through the hands."

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