Sean Cavanagh: Tyrone ‘out-worked and out-fought on our home patch’

The former Footballer of the Year shared his thoughts after Tyrone’s All-Ireland series exit to Roscommon at O’Neills Healy Park

Sean Cavanagh retired from county football in 2017 after winning three All-Irelands, six Ulster titles and five Allstars while playing for Tyrone
Sean Cavanagh retired from county football in 2017 after winning three All-Irelands, six Ulster titles and five Allstars while playing for Tyrone

Tyrone great Sean Cavanagh says it’s too early to press the panic button, but he raised questions over commitment in the wake of a shock defeat to Roscommon.

The treble All-Ireland winner and former Footballer of the Year feels that the Red Hands hit a low point as they limped out of the All-Ireland series in a devastating home defeat to Roscommon.

“It’s a bit of a low ebb for Tyrone,” he said.

“It’s difficult to use the word crisis, because Roscommon aren’t a bad team. I have watched this Roscommon team put it up to Dublin, so you’re playing a good team.

“But I think it’s disappointing that you’re in your home patch.

“Against Cork, Tyrone did look strong, and Cork had been talked up, having beaten Donegal, so I think we expected more.

“I think we expected at the very least to get out with a win and to go to an All-Ireland quarter-final.

“While we may not have been expected to beat a Dublin or a Kerry or maybe even Armagh, I think the fact that we have gone out this week, rather than next week, will have a lot of questions to be asked in the winter.

“As a proud county, we feel as if we probably should be making an All-Ireland quarter-final.”

Cavanagh voiced his dismay over what he saw as unacceptably low energy levels on the part of Tyrone’s players at O’Neills Healy Park.

A high ball is contested between Tyrone and Roscommon
Roscommon's Robbie Dolan (4) in contention for breaking ball against Tyrone. Pic: Margaret McLaughlin

The Rossies, on the other hand, launched themselves into the contest with hunger and a fearless desire to seize every moment.

“[In] any games I have ever played for Tyrone in the championship, the minimum requirement is energy and effort and throwing your head in for blocks and turnovers.

“You could see in the first 15, 20 minutes, it was quite the opposite. The runs backwards weren’t quick enough, the hits weren’t hard enough, there was no real cohesion at either end of the pitch.

“Roscommon were out-running us, out-fighting us, contests when the ball went up in the air, they were winning it.

“That’s not what you expect as someone who has come to a Tyrone championship match as someone, for me anyway, that any changing room I have ever stood in, it was always: ‘we’ll out-work and we’ll out-fight the opposition’

Roscommon celebrating their win over Tyrone in Omagh
Roscommon celebrate their first ever SFC win over Tyrone. Pic: Margaret McLaughlin

“It’s disappointing that we have been out-worked and out-fought on our home patch in front of our home crowd.

“You could see the jubilant scenes that the Roscommon supporters were showing, and they were doing that because they didn’t expect to come and get the result.”

A shock 0-14 to 0-12 All-Ireland preliminary quarter-final loss marked a shattering end to a season of inconsistency, during which the Red Hands struggled to find form, managing successive victories just once over both the league and championship campaigns.

But five-time All-Star Cavanagh believes the county does have the players and the quality to compete at the highest level.

“The quality is there, I think that’s obvious, so I wouldn’t say that we’ve no hope.

“I feel sorry for fellas like Darragh Canavan. Every time he got the ball, he was surrounded by two or three players, and he tried to do it on his own and he did do it on his own on a number of occasions.

Tyrone forward Darragh Canavan trailed by three Roscommon defenders.
Tyrone forward Darragh Canavan trailed by three Roscommon defenders. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

“There’s a lot of quality in that Tyrone team, I just don’t know why the chemistry and the cohesion and the ability to run hard and fight for one another wasn’t there but someone within that dressing room is going to have to answer that question.”

Cavanagh, who continued playing with his club beyond his 40th birthday, retiring last year, was part of the golden generation of Tyrone football.

A star of the treble All-Ireland winning team of the noughties, he warned that reputation and a sense of entitlement must not be allowed to enter the psyche.

In the wake of a humbling defeat, Moy clubman feels the current group of players must reassess their standing in the game with a sense of realism, having failed to progress beyond the last 12 in the race for Sam.

“Any year you don’t make an All-Ireland quarter-final for Tyrone is a poor year.

“Sometimes maybe we have a level of arrogance here, where we think we should go and have the opportunity to shoot out a team.

“But Roscommon, in fairness, they brought all the energy, they turned us over, and up front, they had three attacking players that were probably better than anyone we had on the pitch, really and truly.

“It just looks like a bit of a deflated and off-colour Tyrone team that, unfortunately, reminds you of the scenes a couple of years ago at the Athletic Grounds.

“The body language didn’t look great at times towards the end, and we were lacking that little bit of cohesion and chemistry that you would associate with so many Tyrone teams, in terms of fighting for one another and turning ball over and what-not.”