Natural-born leader returns to tackle Australia

One of Ireland’s greatest internationals, Seán Cavanagh, is glad to be back after a controversial summer

Ireland’s Seán Cavanagh is proud to wear the Ireland jersey. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Ireland’s Seán Cavanagh is proud to wear the Ireland jersey. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Fri, Oct 18, 2013, 01:00

He’s by far the most experienced Ireland player going into this weekend’s first test against Australia. With 10 tests played and another couple missed because of injury and questionable selection policy, Seán Cavanagh is one of the greatest of Ireland’s players over the three decades of the international game.

His contribution to the game was summed up five years ago when in the delicate circumstances of rebuilding the relationship with the AFL after the suspension of the series in 2007 he did an exceptional job as Ireland captain – both on the field and in discharging diplomatic duties off it – in getting the international project back on track.

Yet heading into his sixth series, he volunteers a reference to the defining controversy of his championship this year, a season in which he was so good that he is as close as can be got to an assured All Star next month.

As if still trying to explain his motivations for the rugby tackle on Monaghan’s Conor McManus – now one of his international team-mates – which caused the furore of the summer.

Expressed interest
Speaking yesterday after Ireland’s training session in Cavan, Cavanagh is asked about the years that a couple of AFL clubs expressed interest in signing him, he recounts the details before outlining how his two worlds of accountancy and covering centrefield collided.

“Back in ‘04, ‘05 Brisbane offered me a two-year contract to go out and play for them. Carlton offered me a contract a year or two later to go out and play with them.

“Genuinely, if I was to turn back time I still would do exactly the same. It’s a bit like the Conor McManus tackle during the year, you almost think of things with a risk and reward and to me, I wasn’t willing to risk the two or three years I was going to lose, or possibly the ability I was going to lose, to go out and play in Australia to what I had at home. I’ve had a good run with n Tyrone and I’ve never regretted it.”

Media interest piqued, the obvious supplementary arrives: how does he regard all of the fuss back in August? He is unrepentant about the foul, which may have cost Monaghan the chance of a decisive goal.

“Myself and Conor have probably spent more time together in this Irish camp than anyone. I’ve never really worried too much about it because it’s one of those things that if it was going to happen again, and ok it can’t happen again because the black card is coming into play, but you would do it. At the same time I knew obviously exactly what I was doing, stopping a goal scoring opportunity.

‘Changed the balance’
“A goal at that stage would probably have changed the balance of play, but, yeah, it’s nothing I lost any sleep over.”

He says he knew what would happen, the controversy that would erupt, as he had committed a similar foul the previous week. “I knew it right away once I did it. Ach, you live with these things.

“Unfortunately, I would count myself as somebody who just wants to win games and it’s that kind of instinctive thing. I would never do it to hurt anyone and people have come in many times to hurt me.”

Although it’s been a long season, he never wavered in his desire to play in the tests. “It’s a big motivator to be called to play it, obviously some players decline the invitation but to me, to pull on that Irish jersey is a big honour and I am lucky to have done it 10 times.”

He caused muttering in Tyrone when comparing the experience of captaining a successful team five years ago with winning All-Irelands and is more circumspect now. “It’s reasonably high up there. Whenever you are standing there as captain of an Irish team, thousands of miles away in Australia, standing in the line-up listening to Amhrán na bhFiann and the tricolours in the stand, you are just fierce pride-filled.

“Some people don’t agree with the series and don’t agree with the rules but for me personally, it’s the highest I can go in terms of my football.”