As difficult as it was for the Harte and McAreavey families, Cavanagh was never under any illusions just how strong a man Harte is and was hardly surprised when he returned to the fray just days after the funeral.
“When it happened it was so raw, you think of Mickey, his family, poor John (McAreavey) and you wonder will they ever get back to any sort of normality,” said the Moy man at the launch of the new Puma King Finale boot in Dublin yesterday.
“But with any tragedy, slowly but surely, time will help. With all the support that Mickey had, and we were chatting to him, you realise what a strong man he is and how strong a family circle Tyrone GAA and the GAA is.
“Everyone rallied around and helped him. And because he is so strong he still has Michaela by his side and she will be there to support him whenever he needs support.”
As regards the team, Cavanagh admits the three wins from three in the McKenna Cup did come as a bit of a surprise.
Not because of Michaela’s death but due to their lack of training going into the pre-season competition.
“We were almost going into it a bit blind because we didn’t have much training behind us,” he said.
According to the Dungannon-based accountant, the panel’s familiarity with tragedy (Cormac McAnallen and Paul McGirr’s sudden deaths) helped them through January.
“It did bring us back to Cormac in 2004. You were pulling on the boots and thinking ‘is this right, what do I do?’ “But once you get back out once or twice it almost helps you to get back to some sort of normality.
“You realise the support that is there for Mickey, his family and the whole of Tyrone GAA at times like this.
“You realise that the GAA is a massive family circle and the crowds that were there helped us get through it.
“Mickey obviously gave us his blessing to get out on the Thursday night after it (Michaela’s death) happened, and we did a bit of training. We have been through experiences like this before and we know that we have to get back together and it’s the best thing for us.”
The three wins certainly give Tyrone momentum going into their Division Two opener against Derry in Celtic Park on Sunday. But John Brennan’s side are also undefeated this year and the Red Hand record in Derry is poor.
“We got the three wins we needed in the McKenna Cup, but that’s only the start and on Sunday it’ll be a different story,” said Cavanagh. “We’ll be going to the white heat of Celtic Park and we haven’t won there since 1984 so it’s quite a challenge. We have never shied away from a challenge before and Sunday will be no different.”
Tyrone find themselves out of the top flight for the first time since Harte took over after they, along with Derry, were edged out of Division One on scoring difference by Monaghan.
Cavanagh admitted: “It was massively disappointing. I can still remember sitting on the Omagh pitch (after losing to Dublin in the last game) and looking at guys and thinking, what’s happened here? Ever since I started playing in 2002 we were always a Division One team. But we made our bed and we had to get on with it. We said that day in the Omagh dressing-rooms that we wanted to get back to Division One and that redemption starts on Sunday.”
A return to Croke Park and exorcising the ghosts of an All-Ireland quarter-final loss to Dublin is also on the agenda.
“Last year, for all of us, ended on a sour note,” acknowledged Cavanagh. “We probably beat ourselves against the Dubs. We know we have as good a players as anyone in Ireland. We know if we can get that blend right I think, fingers crossed, we’ll be there at the business end of the season.”