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slap on red hand 'I did reflect on it mid-year' - Colm Cavanagh on turning down the chance to return to Tyrone

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Colm Cavanagh has believed for some years that there is an All-Ireland in this Tyrone team. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Colm Cavanagh has believed for some years that there is an All-Ireland in this Tyrone team. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Colm Cavanagh has believed for some years that there is an All-Ireland in this Tyrone team. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

When Brian Dooher rang Colm Cavanagh earlier this year, he phoned with an offer he almost couldn’t refuse.

Cavanagh retired midway through the 2020 season. Over the course of the Covid delay, he decided to declare his innings. When action resumed, he wasn’t part of Mickey Harte’s side. The last remaining playing link to the All-Ireland winning team of 2008 had been severed.

But joint-manager Dooher had a plan. And he offered the Moy man a chance to return to a Tyrone side that Cavanagh has long believed had the capability to win All-Irelands.

In some ways, it was exactly what he was looking for. But enough sand had slipped through the hour glass for him to know it was time to pursue something else. And even now, as his former team-mates prepare for another All-Ireland final, he’s adamant that he made the right call.

At 34, it was time to let go.

“I did reflect on it mid-year,” said AIB ambassador Cavanagh. “And my lifestyle at the moment doesn’t suit playing inter-county football. I’m travelling most weeks back and forth to England and I knew in the back of my head there was going to be a problem at some point down the line, even though talking to Brian early in the year they (said they) would try and accommodate it.

“But I knew if I was going to commit to something like this again I would have to put all that on hold. And when you get to 34 years of age your priorities have to start shifting.”

So he’s caught in the no-man’s land that comes with being outside the bubble but close enough to it at the same time. Tyrone supporters might not have fancied them to go all the way this year, but within the squad, Cavanagh insists they would have always believed.

“Talk to any of the lads who have left that panel in the last few years and they will tell you. And I’ve probably been saying it the last couple of years that there is an All-Ireland in that team. I’ve been harping on. It hasn’t come to fruition with the Dublin dominance, but having been in that circle and seen the quality of players and the addition of Conor McKenna coming back, and when you are chatting to lads internally, they know they have a chance of winning the All-Ireland.

“Supporters-wise probably not the same optimism they probably felt that Tyrone could have a decent run and an Ulster title and maybe that would be it from talking to other supporters. But anyone inside that circle you have to have that belief and that determination that you can win something and that is definitely there and has been there for a couple of years.”

With all of the noise that came with Tyrone’s win over Kerry, the fact that they delivered one of their best Croke Park performances has been lost in the mire somewhat. And the manner of that victory has started to lift expectations.

“You’ve gotten over Kerry and Dublin are not there and the sound-bites coming are that Tyrone people are fairly confident that they can do this and hopefully get over the line. So I do think that has shifted slightly.

“Now I don’t think anyone is under any illusions that Mayo are going to bring a massive performance, looking at the two teams the intensity and the rawness that they brought to the two semi-finals was brilliant to watch so it really makes for an interesting final.”

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The return of McKenna has strengthened their options. With every passing week, Cathal McShane is getting closer to his best form. Darragh Canavan has matured with the passing of time. But at the centre of Tyrone’s resurgence, Cavanagh sees a more daring team.

“They seem to be playing a lot (more freely) and nearly without fear,” said the 2008 All-Ireland winner.

“I would have said this last couple of years watching Tyrone and playing with Tyrone that there was an awful lot of playing with the handbrake on and an awful lot of fear of making mistakes.

“And I don’t know what that is but being part of those teams you just knew you were going to get read up in a video analysis or whatever it was and boys were nearly afraid to take them chances. While watching Tyrone this year the guys are, there’s no doubt they made plenty of mistakes at the weekend and have done in the games gone by, but they are definitely taking a lot more risks and they are getting the rewards for it,” concluded Cavanagh.

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