Sean Cavanagh confident Tyrone have what it takes
Veteran says current squad among the strongest of all his time with the county
Sean Cavanagh celebrates scoring a point in the victory over Derry at Celtic Park. “There is serious competition for places at the moment. I am seeing it there in training. Whether that is good enough, time will tell.” Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
Tyrone veteran Seán Cavanagh believes this year’s squad is among the strongest of his time playing for the county. The Moy man put in a marvellous shift in what was his last game at Celtic Park in Tyrone’s comprehensive win against Derry.
Cavanagh’s ambition to win a fourth All-Ireland medal with his county is one of the intrigues of this year’s championship. Sunday’s defence of their Ulster title was formidably accomplished.
“I would say that it is much stronger than the ones I played with in my early years. I say that with my hand on my heart, but it has been there for the last couple of years. For one reason or another, when it has come to the big games in the last couple of years we have not kicked on. We just have to hope that this might be the year where we might click and we might be able to kick on,” said Cavanagh.
“Like I say, we don’t control what is being written about us. We just keep the heads down and keep working hard.”
Since Mickey Harte recalibrated Tyrone as a hyper-organised defensive unit specialising in slick and devastating counterattacks, the one gripe has been that they cannot score enough to secure an All-Ireland. Their scoring deluge of 0-22 on Sunday was a form of retort. If anything, Tyrone should have finished with closer to 27 points, having missed a few chances they would normally take.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” Cavanagh said of the final score.
“ No matter what is written I can see the talent is there. Against Mayo we probably kicked 14/15 wides up in Omagh so if we had scored 20 points that day it would not have surprised me either. I have not bought in, and I would say most of the guys in the changing room have not bought in either to the things that have been written. We can’t control that; we just keep working away and all I know is that there is serious competition for places at the moment. I am seeing it there in training. Whether that is good enough, time will tell.”
Sunday’s game deepened the suspicion that the Ulster championship is in danger of lapsing into the monotonous one-sidedness which has destroyed Leinster as a competition.
Cavanagh acknowledged that Derry were probably disappointed with their performance. “We were expecting a physical Ulster encounter, maybe it just did not materialise.”
Ulster’s reputation as a volatile and unpredictable theatre has been undermined by the domination of Tyrone, Donegal and Monaghan.
“I suppose the results would suggest that. As players, we probably don’t feel that. I certainly don’t feel it because I have played for 15/16 seasons where the games have been gruelling Ulster games.
“I remember Derry coming to Omagh in 2006 and smashing us. I have those scars from playing Derry, from playing Monaghan. Look, I suppose in the last few years it has produced some one-sided games. There is no getting away from that so I could forgive some of the younger players if they don’t see the Ulster championship as the competitive one that the older guys would see but we can’t do much about that. We just have to keep getting over the hurdles and I have no doubt that the next hurdle will be a lot different.”
An injury scare to Michael Murphy threatened to immediately lengthen the odds on Donegal beating Tyrone when the teams meet in Clones on June 18th. That scare has abated, leaving the counties perfectly balanced for what looks set to be the first proper Ulster rumble.
Tyrone edged Donegal in last year’s Ulster final while Rory Gallagher’s team dominated their last encounter on a sodden Saturday night league fixture in Ballybofey.
“We were not maybe expecting some of the individuals that stood up for Donegal that night,” Cavanagh said. “They are a relatively new team, there are some new names that were there who were not around when we played then in the Ulster final last year.
“I suppose they will see themselves as having a new energised team and they did not fear us that night in Ballybofey. So I don’t think that they will fear us in Clones either. We have to be ready for that. We will probably be a bit more refined than we were that night.
“They definitely did knock us off their stride that night. But they will obviously go into the game as favourites and rightly so. They had a stronger league than we did and they have been through some bigger tests. It will be a typical Ulster battle and we have to be ready for it.”