Sean Cavanagh's comments about Mickey Harte show shared experiences count for nothing
IT didn’t take Sean Cavanagh long to make a splash in the colourful world of GAA punditry.
His seat in the Tyrone changing room is still warm and yet he was telling reporters how much of an autocrat Mickey Harte was and how his defensive approach stunted the county careers of some forwards in the county.
In this era of media-trained, anodyne player and manager press briefings, big Sean’s interview was the kind that made you sit up and take notice.
It was as if Cavanagh had headed down one of those disused tunnels that were discovered beneath the Korean Demilitarized Zone and managed to defect to the liberal south to tell the western world of the miserable serfdom he’d endured in recent years.
The problem for Cavanagh is that his younger brother, Collie, is still incarcerated in the north.
Still chained to his joyless sweeping duties with an Allstar hanging out of his back pocket and being forcefully driven to training five nights a week
How awkward is that?
How does Collie feel about his elder brother hammering the Tyrone regime while he’s still part of it?
Of course, I’ve always got the sense that Collie Cavanagh is bullet-proof.
Nothing, not even Dublin’s attacking system, fazes the younger sibling.
In the interview, Tyrone’s recently retired multiple Allstar winner said: “I'm starting to see the other side, that players aren't always in the right mind-frame to be able to tell what's right or wrong for them.
“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.”
Cavanagh continued: “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…
“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’s words were hardly a ringing endorsement of Mickey Harte.
There is no doubt Tyrone have relied heavily on their running game over the past number of years.
It was enough to reclaim their first Ulster title in six years – and let’s not forget the inspirational scores Cavanagh mined against Donegal in the 2016 decider to get the Red Hands over the line.
Like all these things, it’s a highly subjective debate. Tyrone rarely kicked the ball into their full-forward line because there was often only one target to hit.
And yet, they racked up scandalously high scores with their running game in retaining the Anglo-Celt Cup in 2017.
But Ulster and the All-Ireland are two markedly different stages.
There was tacit acceptance within the Tyrone management team that tweaks were required to be better equipped for the All-Ireland stage.
This season they’ve tried to leave two men inside which gives them more variety in how they attack the opposition.
But it’s also true Tyrone no longer possess game-changing forwards of the calibre of Peter Canavan, Stevie O’Neill or Brian McGuigan.
They were once-in-a-life-time footballers.
Cavanagh held up Ronan O’Neill, Darren McCurry, Kyle Coney and Niall McKenna as evidence to support his argument that the manager’s tactics didn’t get the best out of them.
Out of this quartet, it’s a genuine shame McCurry isn’t part of the current panel as he appears to have the full repertoire of skills to be an elite forward.
In response to Cavanagh’s comments, Philip Jordan perhaps summed it up best, when he asked: “Does Sean really believe that Tyrone have a player up front as good as Conor McManus? I don’t think he does.”
Maybe Tyrone don’t have the players to actually win a fourth All-Ireland title and that a semi-final berth is their ceiling.
Or maybe Lee Brennan, Mark Bradley and Connor McAliskey can be the difference.
Regardless of your opinion on where Tyrone is at, the swiftness of Cavanagh’s transition from Tyrone captain to GAA pundit is a talking point in itself.
He has a brother on the team and still many friends.
Relations between Cavanagh and Harte were obviously frayed.
Cavanagh can certainly not be accused of being sentimental about Tyrone.
Equally, Cavanagh must have expected some kind of retaliatory act from within the camp he was part of just nine months earlier.
In yesterday’s Irish News, Gavin ‘Horse’ Devlin didn’t miss his former team-mate to hit the wall.
Clearly vexed by Cavanagh’s damning assessment of what’s wrong in Tyrone, Devlin revealed that Cavanagh had ample opportunities to voice his concerns.
“If I had been captain, I have no doubt that I could have met Mickey and said: ‘Mickey, I think this is what we should do,’ or ‘What about trying this?’” Devlin said.
“I wouldn’t sit and keep my mouth shut. I’ve had a number of conversations with Sean and he never mentioned anything about styles of play or what we should and shouldn’t do. If he thought something wasn’t right, as captain, why didn’t he come and have a conversation with us rather than saying it in an RTE studio?
“That’s my opinion on it… The captains we’ve had in the past, I’ve no doubt would have come to Mickey and had their say.”
I've enjoyed Cavanagh's punditry musings on The Sunday Game in the early throes of summer.
Even during his playing days, big Sean wasn't afraid to speak his mind and has enriched GAA media discourse.
He won some amount of medals and awards in a brilliant career with Tyrone.
Mickey Harte played a major role in his success.
Just nine months after announcing his inter-county retirement, those shared experiences counted for very little.