'It derails your focus from football' - Cavanagh says Tyrone are right to decline Covid questions

The Red Hand refused to entertain any questions about their Covid situation at their All-Ireland final media event.

AIB ambassador Colm Cavanagh pictured ahead of the GAA All-Ireland Senior Football Championship final as long-time rivals Mayo and Tyrone meet in a mouth-watering final to round off #TheToughest knockout season of summer football.
AIB ambassador Colm Cavanagh pictured ahead of the GAA All-Ireland Senior Football Championship final as long-time rivals Mayo and Tyrone meet in a mouth-watering final to round off #TheToughest knockout season of summer football.
Image: Seb Daly/SPORTSFILE

AT THEIR ALL-Ireland final press day yesterday in Garvaghy, Tyrone declined to take questions about the Covid or vaccination situations that saw the Kerry game postponed twice due to an outbreak in the camp.

Former Tyrone midfielder Colm Cavanagh feels the management have handled the issue well as they attempt to keep the focus on the upcoming decider against Mayo.

“I think it’s important that is the case,” he says. “They are obviously well-educated men, and know there are going to be questions asked about that. There’s a time and a place to be asking them – in terms of getting questions and answers.

“From a player’s point of view, you don’t want to be bogged down in answering stuff around that. It derails your focus from football.

“I think it has been managed well. Whatever comes down the line after that. The important thing is keeping the lads focused on the football, and I think they’ve done that well.”

When Brian Dooher and Feargal Logan were appointed as the new managers last winter, they left the door open for Cavanagh to come out of inter-county retirement.

Dooher made an approach to the 2008 All-Ireland winner, whose retirement last September arrived shortly before the 2020 season resumed after a Covid-enforced break.

Following Tyrone’s Ulster exit to Donegal, long-serving Harte stepped down as manager.

Cavanagh was invited back into the fold by the new management team and he mulled over the offer before ultimately deciding against a return to the Tyrone jersey.

As he watched the Red Hand take down Kerry in Saturday’s All-Ireland semi-final, he admits his mind drifted back to that decision.

“Ach yeah, always,” says Cavanagh. “Especially when the question did get asked in December or January this year, would I go back by a couple of different people in the set-up. Of course.

“It was from Brian. He reached out pre-Christmas. I told him that I’d wait until after Christmas to make any decision. I gave him an answer after that. I did mull over it a good number of weeks before I came back to them. Obviously, I made the call after that.

“They felt that was still a role of some sort for me to play. It’s not something that you can go into half-heartedly, and not being able to give that full commitment, because you’ll get found out quickly if you are half doing it, given the intensity and the fitness levels it takes.

“It was more about where I was at in terms of working and my own business. I knew there was going to be travelling.

“My wife was trying to get me to go back. She was saying, ‘Oh, it’s going to be a short season. You only have to commit for a few months.’

“With the work scenario and also not having the headspace for it, because I gave so much to it the previous 13-and-a-half years. You have to live and breathe this thing to have any sort of success. I just couldn’t go back into that bubble again, even though there was a slight draw from the changes in the setup.

“That was one thing I had to decide on, that there would be a different setup, different approach to how they would be doing everything. From tactics, to video analysis, to training styles. People don’t realise that there are so many things and aspects of a setup.

“There was a part of me that did want to experience that. I wish it had happened a wee bit earlier in my career, when I was still fit and well to give something to them.

“It just wasn’t to be. If they ring me now, maybe I’ll give them a different answer at this stage,” he quipped.

colm-cavanagh Colm Cavanagh during his final campaign with Tyrone. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Cavanagh wasn’t in Croke Park to watch Tyrone pull off an ambush on the All-Ireland favourites. He made use of his newfound free time by attending a friend’s stag party, so had to make do with watching it on TV.

“I’m finding it very weird at the moment that I’m able to actually do these things that I haven’t been able to do in the past for about 13 or 14 years.

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“Probably the first time this whole year I’ve watched Tyrone play and been really excited about it and jumped off the seat, I don’t think I’ve ever done that in the past. A very enjoyable game.

“Watching them this year has been a wee bit strange. But very enjoyable to see a different dynamic and a different approach to things the way the guys are playing at the moment. It’s definitely a breath of fresh air.

“Whenever that football piece has been such a big part of your life for all them years, it’s very hard to set it aside. Look, I can genuinely hold my hand on my heart and say I’m really happy for the lads.”

Cavanagh can see the difference in style employed by the Dooher and Logan regime, with Tyrone attempting to force turnovers high up the field rather than retreating in numbers inside their own half.

“Obviously for parts of the Kerry game they reverted back to a counter-attacking game, especially when the black cards came,” he explains.

“But, you know, there’s a lot more emphasis now on keeping people up the pitch than there was before and trying to stop things high up the pitch. There’s an awful lot more intensity and work-rate from what I can see.

“Again, that’s more around the system and style they’re playing. They’re trying to take more risks and be more adventurous. The teams I played on, we did try to do that but we did revert back to trying to get men behind the ball and shuffling left to right.

“I just think when you’re trained to play that type of football it can be very difficult to break that cycle where you’re playing a certain way. Without a change in management and change of players happening, it’s very hard to do that.

“They’ve definitely changed, there’s obviously some glimpses there of what they’ve been working on for the last five or six years. There’s definitely a freshness to what they’re doing and they’re definitely taking more risks and they seem to be given the licence to go out and play football and be a bit freer. Whereas in the years gone past it hasn’t really been the case.”

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Kevin O'Brien

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