Cavanagh enjoying his new lease of life with a rejuvenated Tyrone
Mickey Harte has reinvented the Red Hand team as they prepare to face Dublin in the NFL final
The current rebuilding phase in Tyrone is not dissimilar to what prompted the Kingmakers to hand the sceptre to Mickey Harte in the first place. Ten years on and Harte is at it again; introducing the next generation of Red Hand footballers to the greater GAA world.
Another parallel from then to now is progress to a national league final. No Tyrone side has managed that since 2003. A coincidence maybe, or maybe a second coming.
“This is exactly where we want to be at,” said Seán Cavanagh. “If you had of told us a couple of months ago that we would be playing a league final against Dublin we probably wouldn’t have accepted it.
“We were in transition, trying to stave off relegation, having only come from division two.
“It’s a good position to be in, to be able to benchmark ourselves against the best because we are obviously going to meet the best and are going to have to be at our best to beat Donegal in Ballybofey (on May 26th) so it will be a good tester on Sunday week.”
Thirty now, time has “flicked away very quickly” for Cavanagh, who lifted his shirt at yesterday’s Electric Ireland minor championship launch to reveal incision scars beneath either shoulder. The four-time All Star spoke about his desire to atone for a wasted 2012.
In the darkest hours of rehabilitation, he contemplated the worst. “I had said to my wife: ‘I’m not going back because the shoulder is not strong enough to cope.’ But like anything, through time, you get that itch back.”
Besides his outstanding abilities, Cavanagh’s value is the link he provides to one of football’s greatest ever teams.
“There has been a few comparisons with the 2003 team and 2013 team because there has been a changing of the guard. Leaders that have seen us through the noughties; your Riceys, your Mugseys, Philly Jordans and Hughes’ have left over the last 18 months.
“It’s a new team completely. The energy, the freshness this year has been fantastic, coupled with the Garvaghey project.”
Centre of excellence
This being Tyrone’s €7.5 million state-of-the-art, six-pitch, centre of excellence. “We have been able to gel reasonably quickly because we are all at the same training complex four nights a week, virtually living with each other.
“The real test is probably going to come next but we did feel we needed to do well during the league as the newer players coming in hadn’t had the success at minor and under-21 level whereas in 2003 most of us had won minors and a few had won back-to-back 21s and we all expected to be winning All-Irelands and knew we were good enough to be winning All-Irelands.
“To be able to get to a national final is probably going to be more beneficial to the younger lads as they will know what it takes to compete at the top table.”
Of Tyrone’s three-time All-Ireland-winning group only Cavanagh, Conor Gormley and Stephen O’Neill linger in the starting team.
Such were the ridiculously acute angles of O’Neill’s two points during last Sunday’s league semi-final victory over Kildare that Cavanagh agreed the unmarkable 2005 version of the man has returned.
“If you watch back on any of the tapes or DVDs from 2005, it got to the stage by then that you’d almost expect him to score any time he got the ball on the sideline.
“In terms of pure, raw talent and ability to score, I haven’t seen a better player. I haven’t played with a better player or against a better player.”
Even Peter the Great?
“Canavan was unbelievable, Canavan was probably a completely different player but he would be the first to admit that some of those points that Stevie put over from acute angles, there’s no better man in the business.
“He just produces magic and the longer we can keep him fit, unfortunately he picked up different knocks through the last number of years and that hasn’t let him get a full year injury-free, so we will wrap him up in cotton wool for a few months and hopefully he’ll be in good shape.”
Their next two games will be captivating. Performances against Dublin then Donegal will tell us how fair it is to hark back to the 2003 revolution.
“I think we have the talent there, it’s whether we can get it right on any given day. We have some fantastic players, some of them have been on show during the league. The likes of Kyle Coney and Ronan O’Neill weren’t able to get a good run at this year but in terms of talent they are up there with the best in Ireland.
“If we can get those sort of guys out and mixed in with the Stevie O’Neills of this world then it could create a reasonably strong and dangerous forward line that could compete with most teams. It is all ifs and buts trying to get that balance right, but there is no better man to do it than Mickey Harte.”