Sunday 16 December 2018

'You don't know what you're missing' - Sean Cavanagh on stepping away from the inter-county bubble

Inter-county retirement has given Cavanagh new perspective

Sean Cavanagh in Croke Park yesterday ahead of the AIB All-Ireland IFC final on Saturday. Photo: Sportsfile
Sean Cavanagh in Croke Park yesterday ahead of the AIB All-Ireland IFC final on Saturday. Photo: Sportsfile
Sean Cavanagh with daughters Clara (4) and Eva (6), and 10-month-old son Sean after their semi-final win in Thurles. Photo: Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

There was no last dance in the schedule. When Sean Cavanagh made his teary departure from Croke Park after Tyrone's All-Ireland semi-final defeat back in August, he figured he had played in the old place for the last time.

After all, no one in Moy could see what was coming. The club hadn't won a championship in 35 years so thinking that they could be in Croke Park in a few short months was fanciful. But on Saturday Cavanagh and Moy will get one more visit when they face Roscommon side Michael Glavey's in the AIB All-Ireland club IFC final.

"I thought down in the Hogan Stand that day after playing Dublin, 'this is it, this is the last time I'll have boots on (at Croke Park)'. When your club hasn't won a championship in 35 years at that point, never in a million years did I think I'd be back here six months later."

So it's special for him but an even bigger deal for those who have never made it to HQ before.

"We have guys like Thomas McNicholl at full-back and Niall (Conlon) at centre-back, I've been playing with them since U-10, they're 33 or 34 now, soldiered all their lives right up the grades and teams with me.


"I suppose they never dreamed of getting a chance to go out in Croke Park. I think I'm prouder just for guys like that, to bring them here, and to let them experience it, because I know I've been blessed more than anyone to experience it. So yeah, it's going to be good."

Moy's run to Tyrone and Ulster glory has reignited his passion for the game after the pressures of county football.

"The club run has allowed me almost to fall in love with the game a wee bit again because the county thing is so pressurised and every moment, every day you're coming home from training, you're packing your kitbag, you're packing it that night for the next day and you're in that bubble and regime and you have to be at the top of your game every single training.

"With the club thing you can take a breath a wee bit and smile a bit more and enjoy it. That's what I've done the last few months and I've really, really enjoyed the last few months playing football just for falling in love with it again and not feeling that you have to be thinking about it 24/7 because that's the way the county game is at the minute. It's incredibly intense."

County football was good to him, he stresses. And he's eager to point out that he loved every minute. But having stepped back, Cavanagh has a new appreciation for the things he was missing out on.

"You are getting up at 7 in the morning, you are working to 6. Your gear bag is in the boot. You are going to Garvaghey. You are finishing in Garvaghey at half 9. You are getting back at 10. You are taking one set of gear out, you are putting one set of gear in.

"And you are getting home and you are seeing the wife for 10 or 15 minutes and you are going to bed. And you are doing that four or five days a week. I haven't mentioned my three children, and that's where it becomes difficult for me where you were leaving in the morning at half 7 or 8 and saying to your six or five-year-old kid, 'I'll see you tomorrow', and that's the reality.

"That was tough like and you know what, you hear county managers saying, 'no-one would do it if they didn't want to do it'. Of course you didn't. You were in that environment. You were living it. You were breathing it. You are blessed.

"It's brilliant. It's class, but you don't know what you are missing. You don't understand what's out there and what you are sacrificing.

"All county players will tell you, you become really, really selfish people, and you maybe only realise how selfish whenever you take a step back.

"Look, no-one was putting a gun to anyone's head. I loved every moment of training, every minute of it, and that was part of who I was. But now, you take a step back and you are wondering."

And he believes players are picking their careers to suit playing football.

"I saw it in Tyrone. I saw guys deciding to go to teaching as opposed to going to other careers because teaching allowed them to train in the evening.

"I saw guys who decided to go job sharing as opposed to taking a full 40-hour role and look, we were one of the lucky ones. We were playing for Tyrone and you have a good chance of winning Ulsters and competing at the All-Ireland stage.

"I think you are starting to see some of the lesser county guys put their hand up and go, 'you know what this is becoming too much,' and if that trends continues you are going to get that in the next few years, guys saying, 'nah, I can't do this,' and that's tough you know."

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