'There were 30,000 people in Clones' - Sean Cavanagh on the massive minor clash that started his Tyrone career
Tyrone legend Sean Cavanagh collected every single honour across every single age grade during his glittering inter-county career - but even now his minor football memories burn as bright as any.
The all-action midfielder called time on his Tyrone career last September, departing the playing field with three All-Ireland senior medals, six Ulster titles, five All Stars and a Footballer of the Year award, but he was a household name for many fans before he even kicked a ball at senior level.
Cavanagh was one of the stars of a golden generation for Tyrone underage football that lit up the minor championship.
Starting with when Mickey Harte took over the Tyrone minors in 1991, the Red Hand County began to churn out prodigious talents at an exceptional rate - with silverware coming along with it. Harte moved on in 1998 after delivering a minor All-Ireland title as well as three provincial crowns, having managed future All Stars such as Owen Mulligan, Cormac McAnallen and Brian McGuigan.
However, three years later in 2001 an even greater star tore through the minor championship like a whirlwind. Sean Cavanagh was only 18 then but was already close to being one the powerhouses who would dominate Gaelic football for a decade.
The lung-bursting runs from deep that would become his trademark were already evident, with Cavanagh lining out at corner forward, centre forward and eventually midfield, in one of the most accomplished seasons any minor footballer has ever enjoyed.
Cavanagh was the star but equally, he was surrounded by top players on what was an extremely gifted Tyrone team, which also included future senior All-Ireland winners in goalkeeper John Devine, Joe McMahon, Tommy McGuigan and Martin Penrose.
Fittingly, when Cavanagh recalls his most memorable minor victory, it was a game against a team who would define the early part of his career.
In May 2001, Tyrone and Armagh played out an absorbing contest in front of what became an increasingly packed St Tiernach's Park in Clones. Tyrone came out on the right side of a one-point victory, 1-9 to 0-11, and Cavanagh kicked two vital scores from play to get his county over the line.
Even 17 years later, now as a 35-year-old retired footballer, the memory of that summer's day in Clones stands out from so many others.
"My most memorable win was my championship debut," Cavanagh says.
"We played in Clones against Armagh and there were also 30,000 people in Clones in the second half of the game. It was my first opportunity to pull on a Tyrone jersey in a major match at a huge championship game."
The memorable beginning was a sign of things to come for Cavanagh, who like so many other gifted youngsters, use the Electric Ireland GAA Minor Football Championship as a launchpad for a stellar career.
Even as a teenager just finishing school, Cavanagh was beginning to develop his signature style that terrorised defences. Interestingly, the inspiration behind his direct ball-carrying came from a famous Derry midfielder.
"My hero growing up was probably Anthony Tohill," Cavanagh says.
"A ball-winning midfielder who loved to charge forward at every opportunity and drive at goal. I modelled myself on trying to be Anthony."
Cavanagh says that it is important for minor players today to be allowed to develop their own game naturally, rather than fit into a blueprint.
“The advice I would give to players nowadays is not to get distracted by trying to be someone different,” he says.
“A lot of minor players are being told to do so much in strength and conditioning. Their pace has to be X, their power has to be Y. Just let players be what they are going and let them flourish with the skills that they have.”
We met with Minor Star Award Judge Sean Cavanagh who let us in on his Major Moments and who his sporting hero is. #GAAThisIsMajorPosted by Electric Ireland on Wednesday, July 11, 2018
This Friday, players from Derry, Monaghan, Roscommon and Galway will have a chance to follow in the Tyrone legend’s footsteps when they run out for the Ulster and Connacht minor finals and win or lose, they are sure to have played their part in another major moment in this great Electric Ireland Minor Championship.
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Minor players are embarking on their adult lives. They have hopes, dreams, pressures, distractions and ambitions, but for this one moment in time, the Electric Ireland Minor Championships is the major thing in their lives. Follow the conversation at #GAAThisIsMajor
Have your say and cast your vote for the player of the week nominees on Electric Ireland's Facebook page by clicking here. All nominated players will be in with a chance of making overall team/player of the year at the 2018 Electric Ireland GAA Minor Star Awards.