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'I hold my head up high because all I ever wanted to do was to give all I possibly had for that jersey'

An emotional Sean Cavanagh was speaking after he confirmed his retirement yesterday.

AS SEAN CAVANAGH sat in the Tyrone dressing room at 3pm yesterday, preparing for what turned out to be his final game for the county, his mind drifted back to where it all began.

Sean Cavanagh replaced during the second half Source: James Crombie/INPHO

He made his debut as a 19-year-old against Joe Kernan’s Armagh in the Ulster SFC quarter-final in May 2002. The Orchard County left Clones with a 2-13 to 0-16 victory and it was the first step along a journey that would seem them lift the county’s first All-Ireland that September.

It was a seminal day for Tyrone too as Cavanagh embarked on a legendary inter-county career that would deliver three All-Irelands, six Ulsters, five All-Stars, a Footballer of the Year award and captaincy of the Irish International Rules team.

As he togged out for the All-Ireland semi-final, he recalled small, insignificant details from his debut.

“I was lacing up my boots and I remembered the very first day I laced up my boots in Clones to play in championship against Armagh,” said Cavanagh.

“I remembered the type of boots, how I tied the knots… you do begin to be a wee bit nostalgic, but I’ve had an incredible journey.

Sean Cavanagh 8/6/2002 DIGITAL Sean Cavanagh during his debut 2002 campaign Source: INPHO

“I walk away and hold my head up high because all I ever wanted to do was to give all I possibly had for that jersey.”

As the final whistle confirmed Dublin’s progression to the final, Cavanagh spent a poignant moment with his daughters and wife near his seat in the Hogan Stand, where he’d been stationed since his 55th-minute withdrawal.

The 34-year-old made his way onto the field where the majority of the Dublin players lined up to shake his hand. Somewhat fittingly, he shared a warm embrace with Stephen Cluxton – the only player to appear in more championship games than the departing Moy man.

“There’s obviously huge mutual respect between myself and Stephen,” said Cavanagh.

“We have been soldiering against each other since 2002 in under-21s and seniors and whatnot.

“He said a few nice words to myself and I told him it was an absolute honour to play against one of the greatest footballers ever. And he is that, he is an inspiration, even to me.

“He has probably changed the way Gaelic football is played. It’s been an honour to be in the same bracket in terms of number of appearances for our counties together.

“He is a fantastic guy off the pitch. I have been lucky enough to get to know him as well.

“You find in sport, most of the top, top players are really good human beings and good hearted people. Stephen is one of those, Paul Flynn is another. Dublin are just blessed with those type of guys who are really unselfish.

“I probably had the upper hand on him for a number of years in the 2000′s and he has had the upper hand in this decade, but there are fond memories.”

Cavanagh was bewildered at just how far ahead Dublin were of a Tyrone team who blitzed their way to the last four.

“Every one in that group tried their best and we’ve just come up against probably the greatest GAA team I’ve ever played against and I’ve told a few of the Dublin lads (that).

“It’s tough luck to be part of an era and a team of that magnitude that’s dominating the sport in a way that I never thought was possible to dominate.

“That win today? I just can’t understand how far ahead of everyone they are. I didn’t think they were that far ahead but you have to give it to them, incredible set of athletes and an incredible set of football players.

Paul Flynn with Sean Cavanagh Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“I’ve told our lads, I feel sorry for them. You have to look around some of the guys we have at the moment and they deserve so much more for the effort and the energy and the brilliance of skill they have.

“I was lucky. I came into that team where we were on the rise and had won minors and 21s and just was able to get the success quite early. Peter Harte, Mattie Donnelly, Niall Sludden, Tiernan McCann, every bit as gifted, and would have played on those teams every bit as I would.

“But you have to sometimes bow to greatness and superiority. That’s where Dublin are at at the minute.

“We pushed our bodies to the very top end of the limits and I believe we have phenomenal athletes in that team but they were just breezing past our guys.

“It is dispiriting but at some stage you just have to accept it and this year it is probably easier to accept than it was last year for me because this year we’ve just been beaten by a far superior team.”


Source: The42 Podcasts/SoundCloud

‘Warrior. Leader. Inspiration. Legend. Gentleman’ – Tributes to Tyrone’s Sean Cavanagh

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Kevin O'Brien

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