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GAA Football

Defensive Mickey Harte hampered forwards' development says Sean Cavanagh

Clare minor football player Chiby Okoye (left), Sean Cavanagh (Tyrone) and Tipperary minor hurling player Jonny Ryan are pictured at the launch of Electric Ireland's 'This is Major' campaign to support its sponsorship of the GAA Minor Championships. Four major GAA legends, Sean Cavanagh, Ollie Canning, Michael Fennelly and Daniel Goulding, have teamed up to form the Electric Ireland Minor Star Awards judging panel to shortlist Minor Player of the Week nominations for both hurling and football throughout the Championship. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Paul Keane

SEAN Cavanagh has claimed that a number of potentially explosive Tyrone forwards, some more talented than the greats of the 2000s, failed to properly develop under manager Mickey Harte's counter-attacking system.

The former skipper name-checked attackers Ronan O'Neill, Darren McCurry, Kyle Coney, and Niall McKenna as among those left frustrated by the team's defensive tactics.

Cavanagh pulled no punches regarding his former boss Harte and said players didn't get to suggest alternative strategies as, 'Mickey's the man, and that's just the style of leadership he has, it's quite an autocratic style at times but that's just where he's at'.

Cavanagh and Harte have expressed different opinions on various issues over the years.

And while Cavanagh said he was won over by Harte last year and believed Tyrone would '100 per cent' win the All-Ireland, he admitted that retirement has allowed him to assess the set-up objectively.

"I'm starting to see the other side, that players aren't always right and they aren't always in the right mind-frame to be able to tell what's right or wrong for them," said Cavanagh.

On the county's apparent lack of 'marquee' forwards, a claim made by another ex-Tyrone star, Conor Gormley, last month, Cavanagh said there's a good reason for the situation.

"The way Tyrone has played this past three or four years, we haven't really played with any structure in the forward unit, that's probably the best way of putting it," said Cavanagh.

"That's probably one of the reasons why some of our forwards that came through the system this past four, five or six years haven't really kicked on.

"Ronan O'Neill, Darren McCurry, Kyle Coney who came through way back in 2009, 2010, Niall McKenna, there's been a flood of guys who probably have suffered because we haven't played with six attackers.

"And some of those guys have obviously fallen away and aren't on the panel anymore. That's probably not all their own fault, if I'm honest, it's just the way the system, or the type of football, has gone.

"Some of those type of players have suffered. Some of those guys I would have called marquee, and thought they would be marquee, but because they never had that room to breathe, and because some of them couldn't cope with having to spend more time on the bench, because we were going towards a certain type of player, they struggled."

Cavanagh agreed that these players have been victims of Harte's system.

"That's exactly what they were," said the former Footballer of the Year. "It's sad that, because some of them have as much talent or possibly more talent that some of the older (guys), the guys that were on some of the older teams that myself and Conor played on. But they just haven't been given that opportunity to play, which is just tough."

Cavanagh said he's wondered at times if Tyrone should have been more attack minded over the years.

"You do have those 'what ifs?', that if we did go with three forwards instead of one, or gone with four, because there's serious quality in that Tyrone team," he said. "They're all there and you should see some of the stuff they do at training but unfortunately they don't have the confidence or don't have the....they are maybe not stuck with the same as when the game would be 15 v 15. When things aren't going well there's a temptation for Mickey to go for a different style of player, a style of player that works hard and labours around the midfield and that can run the ball quick through the hands."

Cavanagh's brother, sweeper Colm, is locked in a fitness race for Sunday's Ulster showdown with Monaghan following quad trouble.

"He's a specialist so if he's anywhere near right I'd be surprised if Mickey wouldn't include him because there's no real player like him in Tyrone that has that knowledge of where to position himself and he just thrives on tackling and intercepting," said Cavanagh.

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