Sean Cavanagh hopes that Moy can continue their special run
SEAN Cavanagh has felt the roar of a passionate crowd ringing in his ears as he chased All-Ireland glory with Tyrone for almost a decade and a half.
He expected a silence to descend on his sporting life once he retired from inter-county football at the conclusion of the 2017 Championship.
But just a few months after the end of a glorious Red Hand career, yet another All-Ireland challenge has consumed the three-time Sam Maguire Cup winner and former Footballer of the Year.
The volume may not be quite so deafening, but it’s no less fanatical, and Cavanagh has no difficulty in finding an appropriate response to the rousing chorus of the Moy faithful.
They’ll flock to O’Moore Park in Portlaoise on Sunday to roar on Tir na nOg in the All-Ireland Club IFC semi-final against An Ghaeltacht of Kerry, and at the end of it all, Cavanagh may just find himself on his way back to Croke Park for yet another All-Ireland final.
“I’ve been lucky to know what it feels like to have Tyrone support behind me wearing a red and white jersey, and now to be wearing my beloved blue and white jersey, and to see the whole buzz around the Moy community the flags, the families that have been united,” he said.
“I had never won anything in 18 or 19 years playing senior football for the Moy.
“So to now go on and win Ulster and be looking forward to competing in the All-Ireland series is something really special and to have the whole of Tyrone behind us is great.”
A devastating defeat by Dublin brought the curtain down on a stellar inter-county career last August.
Substituted 15 minutes from the end, Cavanagh was inconsolable. This was not the way it should have ended, and the hurt cut deep into his soul.
But the club championship came along in double-quick time, offering an escape, a distraction and an opportunity to replace the disturbing memories of a dark day with the thrill of a precious journey with his closest friends and nearest neighbours.
“It’s an amazing journey. Whenever I walked off that pitch after 55 minutes in Croke Park at the end of August, I never imagined that the passover would be to success on the club field.”
Moy hadn’t won a championship title since before he was born. His father Teddy played full-back on the team that won the Tyrone intermediate crown 36 years ago.
There was no provincial series in the ’80s, but when the Tir na nOg pocketed the county title last September, they went after greater glorious, and conquered Ulster as well.
The community has responded by coming together in a united show of unconditional love and support, some even crossing the River Blackwater from neighbouring Armagh to register their solidarity and backing for local heroes.
“People who you never even thought were into Gaelic football have come together, and it’s beautiful,” said Cavanagh.
Since 2002, Cavanagh has inhabited the world of Tyrone football, while giving every possible moment to his club along the way.
Three All-Ireland titles during the Noughties brought him fame and recognition as one of the game’s all-time greats.
Some, however, were living in a parallel existence and many of those, such as Crossmaglen and Armagh players, placed greater value on club success than county achievement.
It was an alien concept to Cavanagh, and one which he struggled to understand. But now he gets it, and he’s living the dream on an incredible journey with those closest to his heart.
“I’ve long watched other teams do it, and talk about it, and I could never really imagine it. I always thought the county is always a bit more special, because there’s a bigger surface area, and what-not.
“But now I understand it. I told the guys before the Ulster final that it was possibly the biggest game I’ve ever played in my life.
“And it felt like that. It really meant that much, because from an early age, I’ve been lucky that I’ve won Ulsters and All-Irelands with Tyrone.
“I’ve never felt this before, this is uncharted territory, and boy it’s sweet because it has just united generations of friends, families, community and it’s beautiful.”