Sean Cavanagh has paid his young Tyrone team-mates the ultimate compliment by claiming they are better than the All-Ireland winning squads he played on early in his career.
The Tyrone captain won two All-Irelands in his first four years in the senior panel and considering the quality of the 2003 and 2005 winning teams, his claim will surprise some.
Yet it’s a ringing endorsement of the current panel – which he admits makes it all the more frustrating they haven’t competed strongly for an All-Ireland title.
“I would say that it (squad) is much stronger than the ones I played with in my early years,” says Cavanagh, who made his senior debut in 2002.
“I say that with my hand on my heart, but it has been there for the last couple of years. For one reason or another, when it has come to the big games in the last couple of years we have not kicked on. We just have to hope this might be the year where we might click and we might be able to kick on.”
Tyrone’s fade-out in the league, losing their last three games to Donegal, Mayo and Kerry, dented their billing as favourites to retain their Ulster title. Criticised for being too defensive and lacking a cutting edge, Tyrone had 11 different scorers in Sunday’s 11-point win over Derry. Cavanagh bagged 0-7 in an impressive display and says he is “loving every minute” of what he’s already indicated will be his last season of county football. He doesn’t feel the need to take on the role of protector, because the players don’t listen to criticism they get.
“Nothing surprises me. We don’t control what is being written about us but I can see the talent is there. I have not bought in, and I would say most of the guys in the changing room have not bought in, to things that have been written. We can’t control that, we just keep working away and all I know is there is serious competition for places. I am seeing it there in training. Whether that is good enough, time will tell. We just keep the heads down and keep working hard.”
Tyrone face another showdown with Donegal in the Ulster semi-final on June 18 at Clones – a repeat of last year’s final thriller which Tyrone snatched at the death. Cavanagh has far more vivid memories, however, of the 0-12 to 0-6 defeat by Donegal in the league in March.
“They blew us out of the water up in Ballybofey that Saturday night. I suppose they will see themselves as having a new energised team - they did not fear us that night in Ballybofey so I don’t think that they will fear us in Clones either. We have to be ready for that.
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