Nine years without recognition only to be picked as a PwC All-Star in his 10th season in 2017, Colm Cavanagh wasn’t going to sniff at another award last month, even if it did come in the full-back position.
Although the midfielder was a little surprised to be chosen there when he felt he played more offensively this past season, he could understand it. Convention and Gaelic football don’t rhyme anymore.
“You do have to put people in their positions because ultimately there are still traditional positions and what not but the 6-2-6 formation, it’s loose at the minute, it’s loose. People are playing in every position and there’s different systems being set up, defensively and attacking depending on how many people you’re going to leave up the pitch.”
These personal accolades are a far cry from when Cavanagh struggled to come into an established Tyrone set-up. Known merely as Seán’s brother and considered to be picked because of his older sibling, it was a burning baptism. “I’ve a lot to be thankful for because I’ve seen the other side, I’ve seen the early stages of not doing so well and getting a wee bit of criticism, ‘Oh, he’s only on now because Seán’s there’. I’ve seen that side of it.”
As a means of gleaning motivation, Cavanagh went searching on the internet for negative comments about himself: “That was the curiosity of me. I would have had no problem reading it and I’ve no problem now reading criticism or reading good things, bad things and what not. I’m thick-skinned, I can take it, like. I can take it when it’s warranted, like. But I would have gone looking for it and said ‘that’s fine, I’ll read that and deal with it’.
“It annoyed me, it did annoy me but at the same token I read it and didn’t say ‘oh, this is really getting to me.’ I’d just go ‘you know what, I’m away to the gym here or down to the pitch here and get to where I need to be.’
“It’s just having that focussed determined head on me during all those years. Don’t get me wrong, you read stuff and you do feel a wee bit disappointed that people are writing it but a lot of the times the people who write those negative things aren’t sporting people themselves, in a way.”
Marc Ó Sé has spoken how he felt he had to come out of Darragh and Tomás’ shadows but for Cavanagh it was just a case of proving his worth. Like Seán, he isn’t afraid to speak his mind and following his example, Colm reckons Tyrone have to change their ways if they are to catch Dublin.
A lack of experience, he feels, also hurt the county in the All-Ireland final but he points at tactics as the main difference.
“Dublin are still out in front. Everyone’s in the chasing pack behind and I’d be totally honest about that. If any team has any ambitions of catching Dublin at the minute, we’re going to have to do something different, we’re going to have to adapt somehow to try and stop them because there’s not too many teams that look like beating them at the minute. But a new season brings new hopes and styles and everything will change.”
The rules are set to be altered for the McKenna Cup and Allianz Leagues too but the 31-year-old is concerned there are too many being experimented with at once. “In my mind, I’ll put it out there that I don’t think all these rules need to be completely implemented. I think it’d be very, very harsh on referees, it’d be very, very harsh on the game to implement everything in one go.
“I like the idea of a mark. It gives the inside forward that… you’re nearly rewarding them for winning a good ball. It sort of brings it closer to the AFL-type rules, which I don’t know if you really want to go down that road but if that rule did come in, that one especially, you could see a shift in personnel and who’s going to be up front because, to my mind, whenever I looked at the rules, you’d look at our inside line of Mark Bradley, Conor McAliskey and them lads aren’t big fellas, like. You may want to put bigger men in and encourage kicking the ball.”
If that’s the case, Cavanagh, either at full-back or full-forward where he finished the All-Ireland final, could be playing behind the “D” in the early part of next year as opposed to in front of it where he was effective as a sweeping midfielder. His precise tackle on Jack McCarron in the closing stages of the All-Ireland semi-final underlined just how comfortable he is in a rearguard role.