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Tyrone contenders for Sam, Cavanagh's crowning moment and more of Sunday's GAA talking points
Plenty of talking points after Tyrone and Galway were crowned champions of Ulster and Connacht respectively.

1. The sweetest Ulster title of them all for Sean Cavanagh

SEAN CAVANAGH HOISTED the Anglo-Celt Cup above his head for a fifth time today, but this time was different. This one had an extra significance. This time he is captain.

Sean Cavanagh lifts the cup Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO / INPHO

In the 15th year of his legendary inter-county career, Cavanagh might have been forgiven for assuming his days of lifting trophies on the big stage was over. Tyrone hadn’t won a trophy of note in six years, since their last Ulster triumph.

At 33, Cavanagh is eight years removed from his Footballer of the Year campaign in 2008, and is clearly not the same athlete he was during his pomp. But he’s still able to get around the field, he’s still got the skill-set and he’s got heart. Boy, has he got heart.

Cavanagh had the longevity to stick around as Mickey Harte carefully built his third great team capable of challenging for an All-Ireland. And make no mistake they are capable.

Tyrone have plenty of obstacles to overcome if they are to win the All-Ireland, but they couldn’t do it without Cavanagh. He demonstrated his importance to the Red Hand at the turning point of the narrow 0-13 to 0-11 win over Donegal today.

Donegal were leading by a point as the second-half ticked into the first of six minutes of stoppage-time. Cavanagh picked up the ball on the Donegal 45, with 15 bodies in green and gold in front of him. He burst through a three-man tackle, raced past Ryan McHugh and Anthony Thompson before rolling back the years and firing an equaliser over the attempted block of Paddy McGrath.

Sean Cavanagh Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO / INPHO

It was a score that visibly sparked life and belief into Cavanagh’s teammates. Moments later Peter Harte drilled over a phenomenal score from downtown, putting Tyrone into the lead for the first time in the half. McGeary tagged on the insurance score and before long Cavanagh was raising the Anglo-Celt Cup as the skipper for the first-time in his career.

Consider the mental toughness Cavanagh showed to do what he did. Think about the strength it took to take on the entire Donegal defence and the technical ability it required to curl over that vital score with the heavy legs that come with 72 minutes of gruelling action under the Clones sun.

We wont know until later down the line just how important that score turns out to be for this Tyrone group. But when Tyrone needed a leader, Sean Cavanagh stood up. As he has done time and time again. Nobody deserves that moment more than him.


Tyrone players celebrate at the final whistle Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO / INPHO

2. Tyrone confirm their status as All-Ireland contenders

There’s no doubt about it, Tyrone are genuine threats to Dublin’s crown. If they had lost today, the Red Hand could well have made an All-Ireland semi-final like they have done so often before through the backdoor.

But you sense that, just like Donegal in the early part of this decade, Tyrone required an Ulster title to give them that firm conviction needed to win an All-Ireland. The sort of conviction that can only be held by a group of players who know what it’s like to taste success in Ulster.

The balance of power now lies with Harte’s side in the province after five years of losing. They have yet to be beaten in 2016. Their run without losing stretches to 17 games across the McKenna Cup, Allianz League and Ulster SFC. Significantly, this was a first victory against a Division 1 team this year. And they’ve settled an old score with Donegal, having lost to their neighbours four times in championship over the past five years.

Tyrone looked to be taken aback somewhat by the atmosphere but they adjusted and showed patience to win the game in stoppage-time. Tyrone oozed class in those final ten minutes and there was an element of inevitability about the proceedings as Donegal’s older guard tired.

They lost their only 2015 All-Star in Mattie Donnelly in the first-half and Cathal McShane soon after, but Tyrone showed their mental strength by refusing to panic or move away from the game plan.

Mickey Harte celebrates with his grandson Michael at the final whistle Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO / INPHO

Harte was back to his brilliant best as he edged the tactical battle on the sideline. Rory Gallagher looked like he had Tyrone’s number in a first period where Donegal’s slow build-up appeared to be working, but Harte must get credit for how Tyrone turned the game back in their favour.

Ryan McHugh enjoyed a storming first-half, scoring three excellent points from distance but Harte nullified his threat by placing Rory Brennan on him for the second period. He also negated Donegal’s dangerous full-forward line.

And the three subs Harte brought on, Brennan, Darren McCurry and Kieran McGeary, all kicked huge scores that sent the Red Hand on their way in the second-half.


Tempers flare Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO / INPHO

3. Time for a rule change to save Gaelic football from itself

It’s important not to weight too much importance on the quality of one game. It’s also imperative not to overreact, considering the high-scoring nature of the four (including replays) Ulster semi-finals. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that it’s high time for a rule change to save Gaelic football from itself.

Tyrone and Donegal played mirror systems today, neutralising one another and choking the life out of the game. Both teams conceded the short kickouts — a blight on the game — and dropped at least 14 players behind their own 45. Only once the ball reached that point did they start to pressure the man in possession.

Both teams were petrified of getting caught too high up the field, being turned over and hit on the break. There was just one goal chance in the game, which Cathal McCarron fluffed, and the high quality of score-taking from distance saved it as a spectacle.

The problem is that most teams in the country don’t have players like Sean Cavanagh, Odhran MacNiallais, Peter Harte and Ryan McHugh, players that are capable of kicking long-range scores. So inevitably lower quality opposition produce unwatchable affairs.

The teams produced just 14 kick passes each in the first-half. Gaelic football has become like basketball without the shot-clock — a game where possession is king. The ball isn’t kicked into the full-forward line anymore.

We can’t go on like this. Joe Brolly’s proposed rule-change to cure football makes sense and should be considered.


Eoghan Kerin celebrates with his team after the game James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

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4. Galway put on a Castlebar masterclass 

Galway made no mistake on the second-time of asking in disposing of Roscommon.

The Tribesmen delivered their first Connacht title since 2008 largely thanks to a blistering opening two quarters where they took a 10-point lead into the interval.

After conceding the kick-outs in the drawn game in Salthill, Galway recognised Roscommon’s weakness at centre-field and pushed up on the restarts, forcing Roscommon goalkeeper Darren O’Malley to go long. As a result, Galway dominated the middle, with Paul Conroy particularly instrumental.

The victors gave a throwback to the Galway performances at the start of the last decade, with an aggressive and ambitious performance. They showed real desire from the outset and quickly moved into an 0-3 to no score lead to put Roscommon on the back foot.

Danny Cummins scored 2-1 from three shots, while Shane Walsh’s trickery and Damien Comer’s ball-winning ability and accuracy meant they flourished in attack alongside him.

Galway are flying high as they enter the last eight. With the scalps of two Division 1 sides already under their belt, confidence couldn’t be any higher.


Cathal Cregg and Ciaran Murtagh dejected after the game Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

5. Roscommon face dreaded 6-day turnaround

It’s a statistic that you’ll read and hear an awful lot over the coming days, but only once has a beaten provincial finalist recovered in time to win in the backdoor six days later.

Dublin became the first side to do so in 2010 and nobody has managed it since. After two tough games against Galway, Kevin McStay and Fergal O’Donnell face a massive challenge to lift the heads of their players in time for a game against either Clare or Derry next weekend.

After putting so much focus on the league and spending so much energy in the spring, Roscommon have found it difficult to keep the intensity up. Most of the bigger teams have another level to go to when the hit the championship, but the Rossies struggled in that department. A season-ending injury to Neil Collins and the departure of a couple of key players to America weakened their resolve.

That’s not to say they did anything wrong. Down had a torrid year after starting badly and that form transferred to the championship. Momentum counts for a lot in inter-county football and Roscommon were right to target survival in Division 1.

The psychological impact of such a taxing league campaign might have taken its toll. It was a tall order to sustain that intensity right throughout the year.

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