Tyrone playing catch-up in a rip-roaring Ulster rivalry
Donegal have history on their side but Cavanagh says his side are ready to turn tables
Joe McQuillan books Donegal’s Neil Gallagher and Tyrone’s Sean Cavanagh in last season’s clash between the counties. Photograph: Lorcan Doherty/ Presseye/Inpho
“You can’t argue with their record over the past two or three years, so you have to bow down to that. And whenever you are repeatedly losing to any team, whether it’s Donegal or anyone else, it is always painful. Fair play to them, they have had a serious five or six years, but you would just hope at some stage the tide would turn and it would be our chance.”
It’s surprising just how much that tide has turned in Donegal’s favour: Sunday marks their sixth Ulster final appearance in succession, while Tyrone haven’t been here since 2010 – when they last won.
It’s also their fourth championship clash in five seasons, with Donegal winning all four. It leaves Tyrone seeking their first win over Donegal since 2007, although it’s their last meeting, the 2015 Ulster preliminary round game, which will be freshest in the memory, not just for obvious reasons.
The sides were level on 51 minutes, only for Tyrone to fail to score for the remainder of the game: Donegal added three points to win 1-13 to 1-10.
The day afterwards, at a sponsorship event in Dublin, Cavanagh pulled up his jersey to reveal several red scars down the front of his chest, which at first glance looked like claw marks, as if he’d just been wrestling with a grizzly bear.
What worried him more, however, were the mental scars, the non-stop ‘sledging’ or verbal abuse that went on between both teams: “You don’t need me to tell you there was plenty of off-the-ball stuff happening,” he said.
“But people probably got away with things they shouldn’t have got away with. And it was the same from both sides. There’s no point in pointing fingers. It was just the type of game. That hot-tempered, win-at-all-costs type of Ulster championship game.
“Players probably did overstep the mark. You just have to be thick -skinned. At times it can be quite personal. You just have to accept it. I’ve said it before, it can be very, very personal and I know there were certain players . . that have been through tough times, and they were getting a fair bit of personal abuse.”
Under the skin
Cavanagh actually saw all three cards himself in that game, (a yellow, then a black and a red, for bringing down Donegal’s Paddy McGrath), although he insisted that latter tackle wasn’t deliberate.
After that game, Donegal defender Neil McGee also spoke about the close attention given to his captain, Michael Murphy, by Tyrone’s Justin McMahon.
Cavanagh suggests Tyrone are an improved team on the 2015 edition, the latest evidence of that coming in their five-goal thrashing of Cavan.
“We definitely have the runners,” says Cavanagh. “We have serious running power at the moment. The way the game has gone, you need that. And our size is different, our personnel is different and you would hope that it will go a long way to getting a different result.
“And we know the quality of the talent that isn’t even making the 26 there at the moment. We see some of the performances some of those guys are putting in at training, and we are in that fortunate position at the moment where we have 28, 30, 32 men that really could do a job for us.
“Whenever you have that, that competitiveness in the squad, then you can see it translating to the pitch.”