SEÁN CAVANAGH has admitted that he questioned if the all-conquering Tyrone team had reached ‘the end of the road’ after being demolished by Dublin in April.
The old rivals will contest their fourth All-Ireland quarter-final in five years on Saturday and while Tyrone progressed on both previous occasions to eventually win the Sam Maguire, their more recent Allianz NFL meeting clouds the background to this latest tie in Cavanagh’s mind.
He was left wincing in near disillusion as Dublin effectively won the final-round game by half-time when they held a nine-points lead thanks to a rock-solid rearguard display and the majesty of the Brogan brothers and Kevin McManamon up front.
The defeat condemned Tyrone to relegation for the first time in the Mickey Harte era prompting a rare moment of self doubt to creep into Cavanagh’s mind.
“I’ve been involved with the Tyrone seniors for eight or nine years and it’s the first time I’ve gone down to Division 2,” said three time All-Ireland winner Cavanagh.
“It’s a bit of a culture shock and you’re sort of thinking, ‘Jesus, maybe are we getting too old? Is this the end of the road almost?’ We did have to rethink things and maybe coming into the championship we hadn’t the same confidence that we had in previous championships. Questions were asked of us and we sort of came through Ulster without being put to the pin of our collars too much. It’s a dangerous place to be.”
What impressed Cavanagh most about Dublin during that league game in mid-April was not the Metropolitans’ finishing power but the way in which their new defensive mechanism clicked.
He was surprised then that Dublin manager Pat Gilroy moved away from it briefly after the team’s difficulties against Wexford in the opening round of the Leinster championship but expects the Sky Blues to once again embrace the sort of heavily packed backline that served them so well in Omagh.
“As players ourselves we know how good this Dublin team is,” continued 2008 Footballer of the Year Cavanagh.
“We only have to look at that game up in Healy Park and I think they outworked us that day. They had a system where they dropped the sweepers back and it worked really well. I noticed they abandoned that system early in the Championship and it didn’t work out too well (after that). They’ll play that system on Saturday and we know ourselves they’re very big and very strong.”
Because of all the change in the Dublin team — just six of the players that lined out against Tyrone in the 2008 quarter-final hammering are likely to start — Cavanagh believes there’ll be no issue with psychological scarring from previous Championship collapses.
“I think that this Dublin team haven’t got the same psychological scars that maybe previous Dublin teams had and they won’t be afraid of us on Saturday,” he claimed. “I’ve no doubt that they’ll come out and they’ll be confident of taking us. But fingers crossed we’ll be able to draw on a lot of the experience in our squad to guide us through and we certainly won’t be taking the task lightly.
“We were caught last year in the Cork game. We maybe hadn’t been tested to the fullest extent that maybe we were in 2005 and 2008 where we’d been taken to replays and extra-time and what not. So whenever Cork came at us in the semi-final we weren’t ready for it. Hopefully we’ll have learned from that and whenever things start getting tight on Saturday we’ll be able to push on a bit better and react a wee bit better than we did then.”
Bad news for neutrals and particularly football purist Pat Spillane, according to Cavanagh, is that the match may be a dour enough affair with both sides likely to invest the bulk of their energies in winning and retaining possession.
“Both sides will play quite similarly, it might not be the nicest game to watch,” suggested the Moy man. “It might not be the best game for a neutral and I’m sure Spillane won’t be too happy! It’ll be a massive challenge for both sides. For anyone who knows an awful lot about football it’s a hard game to call.”
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