Colm Cavanagh has never known what it’s like to be a Tyrone footballer without his older brother Seán but he will soon.
This season, the 16th of Seán’s senior career, will all but certainly be his last.
Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final will see Seán become the outfield player with the greatest number of championship appearances, one behind Stephen Cluxton who is set to hit 90 that same afternoon.
As the evenings grow shorter in Tyrone’s training centre in Garvaghey, the inevitable end is not lost on the younger sibling even if it’s not discussed between them. “We don’t really talk about it,” admits Colm. “I don’t think about it too much. He has probably accepted that this will be his last year, whether he likes it or not, but me and him don’t discuss that.
“I think that he has enjoyed this campaign the most of the last number of years. You can just see it in him that he is really loving coming to training and going to the gym. That’s great to see because I think last year even leading up to the Mayo game I didn’t see him doing the things that he is doing this year basically so he is enjoying it.
“Me personally, it doesn’t affect me at all as I’m just thinking about the next game and trying to win. He will probably look back in years to come whenever he does finish and maybe look at things and that but at the minute he is just living the moment and enjoying every time that he comes up to Garvaghey or Omagh.”
Cavanagh has long since emerged from Seán’s shadow. At the age of 30, he has reached a level of maturity himself that allows him to appreciate these build-ups more than before. “We have taken each game as it has come in the championship and have won each of them comfortably so it has been a good campaign, a really enjoyable campaign. As you get older you tend to enjoy every training session and every game so much more than when you are younger and I really look forward to coming up here (Garvaghey) every night.”
Seán may be the elder statesman but imparting advice is something Colm, playing the best football of his life, is happy to do. “I suppose I try to install any sort of wisdom that I have gained over the years to the lads. Me personally, I wouldn’t be the biggest talker in the changing rooms but when I get out onto the pitch I would try to keep the boys on their toes because there is no time for taking breaks in this game in the modern day as there is so much energy required.
“Personally, I’m feeling good even though that I am 30 years of age now. I have never felt as strong and as fit and its testament to the guys who have got the team as a whole in as good a shape as they have been. I’m just really enjoying it. We are in a good enough place at the moment to take on Dublin but you can analyse afterwards whether we were in a good position or not. The mood in the camp is good and everything is positive and we are all looking forward to the challenge that Dublin will bring.”
A challenge is something many believe Tyrone have yet to face this summer even though they, like Dublin, have beaten one Division 1 team, Tyrone nine points better than Donegal and Dublin 10 superior to Monaghan. But then Dublin as All-Ireland champions don’t have to prove themselves as much as a team that, despite annexing a second successive Ulster title, are hoping to reach a first final in nine years.
Cavanagh believes the fact that Tyrone have won matches so well indicates they are doing something right, although he wouldn’t be entirely happy with their displays. “We take every game on merit and we give every team the respect that they deserve. We have racked up some good scores and won convincingly some days out but if you were to sit down and analyse the games we have been far from perfect in all the games. To beat the likes of Dublin it probably wouldn’t be good enough the way that we have played to date to get over the line.
“What probably sticks out in my mind is the first 10 minutes of the second half against Armagh when we just kept giving the ball away. You can’t do that against Dublin because you will find yourself three or four points down at that stage. In that 10 or 12-minute spell of lapse of concentration, as such, could be really detrimental to the game and it could be too late to turn it around.”
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