Cavanagh, who had not played since last year’s NFL Division Two final after suffering a second shoulder injury in successive seasons, inspired the Red Hands to a comeback win over neighbours Derry in front of a crowd of 4,089.
There was plenty to cheer the Tyrone boss on a dismal January day, not least the displays of eight debutants, one of whom, Conor McAliskey, came off the bench to hit a late winning goal.
“Sean Cavanagh is a super player and he can get you big scores when you need them,” said Harte. You know what Sean Cavanagh is made of anyway, he just slots back in again. He works hard, he recovers from injury because he works very hard at it and when he comes back you know he is in good shape and all he is short is a bit of match practice and it did not take him long to get up to speed there today. I thought he was superb.
“A big player gets you important scores and at important times and that is Sean Cavanagh.”
Derry boss Brian McIver was upbeat at the conclusion of his first game in charge, happy that his players had delivered a qualify performance, if not a result.
“It was a great game of football for the sixth of January on a very heavy pitch, fair play to the Omagh groundsmen that they were able to get that match played,” he said.
“I thought we were unlucky that we didn’t come out of it with something.”
A storming midfield display from PJ McCloskey, allied to Mark Lynch’s impressive return in defence, were among many positives for the Oak Leaf manager, who also took significant encouragement from the input of a number of debutants. New boys Ryan Ferris and Ryan Bell showed up well in the opening half, with Ballinderry attacker Bell slotting a ’45 and landing a wonderful point from play.
The Red Hands remained in touch thanks to the place kicking of Cavanagh and Stephen O’Neill, and didn’t register their first point from play until the 23rd minute, when O’Neill gave them the lead for the first time.
Cavanagh and Mattie Donnelly tagged on quality scores to open up a three points advantage, but an Oak Leaf blitz in the closing minutes of the half saw Eoin Bradley knock over two points and James Kielt hoist a spectacular effort to tie it up at 0-7 each. Derry made it six on the spin, PJ McCloskey powering over a couple of points to push them three ahead, but back came Tyrone, two more Cavanagh frees tying it up at 0-10 apiece. Another Kielt special restored Derry’s three points cushion, but McAliskey’s opportunist goal was the decisive score, and there was no way back for Derry after Colin Devlin sent a snap shot just wide in the dying moments.
Scorers for Tyrone: C McAliskey 1-0, S Cavanagh 0-7 (5f), S O’Neill 0-3 (2f), Mattie Donnelly 0-2, K Gallagher, P Harte 0-1 each.
Scorers for Derry: J Kielt 0-4 (2f), PJ McCloskey, E Bradley (1f) 0-3 each, M Lynch, R Bell (1 ’45) 0-2 each, L Kennedy 0-1.
TYRONE: N Morgan; D Carlin, C Gormley, B Tierney; R McKenna, J McMahon, D McBride; C Clarke, S Cavanagh; K Gallagher, Mark Donnelly, Matttie Donnelly; M Penrose, S O’Neill, J Lafferty.
Subs: T McCann for McMahon (20), P Harte for Lafferty (47), D McCurry for Mark Donnelly (47), P Kane for Clarke (60), C McAliskey for McBride (65).
DERRY: E McNicholl; R Ferris, D McBride, C Mullan; C Kielt, M Lynch, SL McGoldrick; P Bradley, PJ McCloskey; B McGoldrick, R Bell, R Wilkinson; E Bradley, L Kennedy, J Kielt.
Subs: C Devlin for Kennedy (48), D Browne for Ferris (52), D Mullan for P Bradley (60).
Referee: M McNally (Monaghan).