Saturday 24 February 2018

Sean Cavanagh gives ominous All-Ireland final prediction - and paints a bleak picture for Dublin's rivals

27 August 2017; Tyrone's Seán Cavanagh with Dublin goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton following the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Dublin and Tyrone at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
27 August 2017; Tyrone's Seán Cavanagh with Dublin goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton following the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Dublin and Tyrone at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Conor McKeon

Conor McKeon

ONE Sunday afternoon in Dublin’s company changed Seán Cavanagh’s perception of Jim Gavin’s team irrevocably.

"I didn’t, prior to that match, buy into the hype that Dublin were that good," admits Cavanagh now with the benefit of educated hindsight.

"I felt we had more than enough to beat them and we had the athleticism to match them and the power to match them."

And afterwards?

"I have to admit, they were the best team I’ve ever played against."

Indeed Cavanagh found some solace in the fact that though the last match of his sparkling inter-county career ended in defeat, it came at the hands off worthy winners.

"If you’re going to lose you might as well lose to the best," he reasons, "and I was blown away by how good they were."

After 15 years with Tyrone, Cavanagh has no regrets.

The scene has changed and Dublin, he feels, aren’t for catching in the short term anyway.

"I fear for the rest of the teams," he stresses.

"Hand on heart, if Dublin continue on this curve, the way they dominate, most teams will struggle.

"And the GAA will struggle to create spectacles, it’s amazing what they have."

What can they achieve, then?

Four-in-a-row? Five even?

"Yeah, or eight out of 10, whatever it might be," Cavanagh says, shaking his head at the scale of possibilities.

"All things being equal, the Super 8 will probably help them, because they’ve got the strength on the bench as well."

He is not an active subscriber to the split Dublin theory, however.

"If it was suggested in Tyrone, I’d be laughing it out the door," he admits.

"That won’t work. I’ve no idea how you stop it. they got the numbers, the commercialism, the crest of the wave, it’s all there.

"There is serious catching up...I think Dublin will dominate.

"I didn’t believe that some of their so-called lesser known players were as good as they were until you saw them in the flesh and seen the pace that they have and the skill that they have and the way they work as a unit.

"I have to hold my hands up, I was incredibly impressed by their whole set-up, their whole machine.

"Jim Gavin has done an incredible job and I believe they will beat Mayo fairly comfortably as well."

Cavanagh’s surprise is genuine.

He played on the Tyrone teams that caused Dublin such bother in each of their league games these past five years yet encountered something totally different two Sundays ago in Dublin’s 12-point win.

"The way Dublin play at the minute," he says, "it’s like the All-Blacks.

"They are incredibly strong, they are working as a unit and that’s strength.

"The Dublin teams we played back in the 2000’s, we probably knew we could get under their skin to a certain extent and we could annoy them and disrupt them.

"Mayo will probably try and do it on Sunday week, but Dublin’s biggest strength at the minute is not their characters, it’s that they are all so similar in strength and size and power and they all work together.

"They are quite clever with the ball and you can see the work that has been done with them in the past couple of years.

"I know we trained ourselves to the bitter end in the past eight or nine months and we were able to walk away and know we couldn’t have given any more.

"We couldn’t have committed any more in terms of our time and our efforts, but you were walking away thinking ‘those Dublin players are still five or ten per cent stronger, faster and fitter.

"Sometimes," Cavanagh adds, "within a game you can think that the circumstances of the game can dictate and the team losing will always look un-fitter, but still I felt ‘nah, these Dublin guys are something new’."

It’s hardly worth asking Cavanagh for his prediction for September 17 then, the day on which Dublin could cement their legend.

"I was at last year’s first final and I felt Dublin probably didn’t do themselves justice that day," he remembers.

"I felt there was probably more in Dublin.

"Mayo have that bit of an x-factor and that’s probably their biggest chance, because you are not sure what they’ll do with Aidan O’Shea.

"Mayo came to us last year in the quarter-final and got us into that fight, and I imagine they’ll do that with Dublin.

"They’ll look to get into a row and with Joe McQuillan refereeing, he might allow that.

"He might allow them to go past the edge of what most refs will allow, so it’s probably a good thing from a Mayo point of view that he is refereeing.

"That’s probably their best chance of competing with them,” Cavanagh concludes, “get them into an arm-wrestle and disrupt them as much as possible."

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