GAA Football

I hope book can help others handle pressure of the game better than I did says Sean Cavanagh

Sean Cavanagh cuts a lonely figure in the wake of his sending off in the 2016 All-Ireland quarter-final against Mayo. Picture by Philip Walsh
Neil Loughran

SOMETIMES even in victory he would struggle to sleep, going over plays in his head time and again, but dealing with the pain of defeat was something Sean Cavanagh never quite came to terms with.

In his autobiography, My Obsession, he explains in detail how much of a toll the 2016 All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Mayo took on him and his family.

After driving home from Dublin with brother Colm and club-mate Harry Loughran, Cavanagh reveals how he got out of the car once they reached The Moy, leaving his keys, wallet and phone behind before setting off on foot towards Benburb as darkness began to fall.

A taximan discovered him in Dungannon at 1.20am and took him home, numb with shock and shivering.

That was the worst day, bar none, but throughout his career Cavanagh struggled – “I was maybe never happy”.

And the 35-year-old hopes, by being so honest in his book, that he can help other young men and women who might find themselves in similar situations.

“When you put anything into the public domain, you’re open to criticism and open to people seeing another side to you, which I hope people will enjoy. It’s very open about some of my emotions, my feelings and how I struggled,” he said.

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“I wish whenever I was 17 or 18 I’d had something there to guide me through some tough days – before matches, after matches.

“In a world now where mental health is a huge issue, it really hit home to me how I wish somebody had been able to come to me and say to me ‘this is perfectly normal, there’s nothing here to worry about’.

“The more I spoke about some of my feelings before and after games, and in between games, after certain events in my life, I realised there was a pattern to the way I reacted to defeats – or reacted even sometimes to winning games. That I maybe was never happy.

“And equally, the nerves and the lack of sleep pre-games, feeling as though you’ve maybe let people down post-game… just learning how to deal with all that.

“I’d like to think some kid who’s 16 or 17 will be reading it, maybe somewhere along the line they will have had similar experiences, and hopefully they’ll be able to deal with them slightly better than I did.”

Cavanagh ended a glittering inter-county career last year with a trophy haul that included three All-Ireland titles, six Ulsters and five Allstars. In a golden generation, he was one of Tyrone’s finest.

At club level, he helped The Moy to an All-Ireland intermediate title earlier this year, an achievement he ranks right up there with everything else, and a day at Croke Park every bit as special as any other.

Yet he is dogged by the feeling he could have achieved even more had he been able to get a grip on his own feelings.

“Even though I was very fortunate to win both on a team and on an individual basis, I still think there’s an awful lot of things I could’ve handled an awful lot better and if I had done I probably would’ve won more, or the team would’ve won more.”


MY Obsession, Sean Cavanagh’s autobiography, will be launched at The Ryandale Inn in The Moy tonight.

Getting under way at 8pm there will be a Q&A with Sean Cavanagh, ghost-writer Damian Lawlor, Peter Canavan, Steven McDonnell, Colm Cavanagh and Charlie Vernon.

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