GAA Football

Sean Cavanagh backs Stevie O'Neill as Tyrone forwards coach

2005 Footballer of the Year Stephen O'Neill will help coach Tyrone's forwards next year.
Francis Mooney

SEAN Cavanagh believes the appointment of former Footballer of the Year Stephen O'Neill as forwards coach promises an exciting new departure for Tyrone and a major shift in strategy towards attacking football in 2018.

Cavanagh is confident O'Neill will help the county shed its defensive image and adopt a more positive approach.

He's looking forward to seeing talented Red Hand attackers get an opportunity to express themselves, and agrees that O'Neill is just the man to help them improve their techniques.

"I would hope that, with Stevie's input, more of them will start to influence the game on the right side of the pitch and it will lead to a more attacking style from Tyrone," he said.

"I think that's what the supporters want, I think that's what the team wants, and I think that's what hopefully Mickey [Harte] and the management team wants.

"Hopefully it will be the final piece in the jigsaw and it will be nice to see Tyrone reach the top again."

Former Tyrone captain Cavanagh, who retired from inter-county football back in August, won three All-Ireland titles with O'Neill, one of the greatest attackers the game has seen.

Now the Clann na nGael man, still playing club football at age 37, can bring some of his magic back to the Tyrone set-up.

"It's what I felt is missing from our play in the last few years. Since 2013, losing to Monaghan in the first round of the National League, we have been working on our offensive approach, and that has taken us a certain way in Ulster and almost in All-Ireland.

"In Stephen O'Neill, there's probably no better instinctive forward that I have ever played with, even more than [Peter] Canavan, though Canavan was probably a better player than all of us.

"But Stevie had that instinctive forward movement, that is hard to coach. And if Stevie can pass any of that on to the Ronan O'Neills, the Mark Bradleys of this world, boy Tyrone will be a hard team to live with.

"He's a good lad, Mickey trusts him, and hopefully he'll be the final piece in the puzzle for this team."

Cavanagh is certain that many talented players within the Tyrone squad still have lots of untapped potential which they are capable of realising, and can do so in a more attacking footballing environment.

"There's lots of players that have vision, that have creativity, that have scoring potential, that maybe haven't been getting the minutes with Tyrone. I think most of us acknowledge that on the biggest of days, the forward unit has to click, and there has to be more of a forward approach from the team.

"You could see them when they go back to their clubs, but maybe because of the higher emphasis on defence and not having the chance to flourish.

"And if Stevie can help a few players, give them that wee bit more confidence, teach them about diagonal running.

"Stevie was man-marked and double-marked for most of his career, and that's what happens nowadays in football, players are double-marked and it can be hard to find space and oxygen in there

"But with clever runs, with those diagonal runs Stevie used to make, it could help. Stevie's movement was as good as anyone I have ever seen in terms of those runs that threw off the shackles of defenders. So if he can do that, it will make Tyrone a serious proposition through 2018.

"He backed himself every time, and there are maybe a few players in the Tyrone set-up at the moment who are lacking in confidence".

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