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Colm Cavanagh: Strange experience being a supporter for Tyrone's All-Ireland triumph but no less thrilling

Tyrone fans at the end of the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Between Tyrone and Mayo at Croke Park Dublin 09-11-2021. Pic Philip Walsh.
COLM CAVANAGH

What a week, what an experience, what a much-needed lift to the community.

For me, being on the other side of the fence for the first time since 2006 it was a very different experience. From driving down and finding a parking space to mingling in the crowd in the streets around Croke Park beforehand, to finding my seat, I’ll be completely honest, it was all very alien to me.

I still felt the same pre-match nerves but this time it was excitement rather than pressure and being able to sit and see the game from a different perspective was a great experience.

One of the main reasons for me leaving the Tyrone panel in 2020 was not having the supporters there on the big days, well I think we have more than made up for lost time. There may have been only 41,150 fans in Croke Park last week, but it may as well have been a full house with the atmosphere that was generated.

To be part of it and experience the noise, the buzz and the celebrations was immense. There were many fans who simply couldn’t get their hands on tickets, but it meant that the clubs and communities at home were coming together and sharing the joy and celebrations together which makes it very special.

When the game was won, I went down to congratulate the lads at the fence like everyone else and it was great to see them, to see the emotions and to share in the overwhelming sense of both relief and joy.

Those lads proved that they could do it, that they always had it in them and all it took was them to click and the spark ignited at exactly the right time.

I got speaking to most of the guys and to be able to share in their delight was a special feeling.

To be called a veteran at 30 years of age is a strange concept, but for guys like Mattie Donnelly, Peter Harte and Niall Morgan who have been pushing for many years it is a special experience.

I felt very proud of the lads and emotional for them.

I was speaking to Conn Kilpatrick afterwards who was saying that he spotted me in the crowd on his way around in the parade.

To see him out there and playing such a huge part in an epic game was a very surreal moment for me.

Conn’s mother would have been my manager when I first started out my accountancy training, and I would first have met Conn as a football-mad schoolboy so to see his dreams coming true was like closing the circle for me.

I have been adamant since I retired that there is an All-Ireland in that team it was just a matter of the timing of when it would happen. It wouldn’t have been easy for Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher to come in and pick up the reins following Mickey Harte’s legacy, they are two very different personalities to both each other and to what Harte would have been and they deserve massive credit for keeping the wheels on the bus nevermind getting everyone to steer the bus in the same direction. The backroom staff are all men that have been there and done that in a Tyrone jersey so for them to impress the pride of the jersey and the drive for success upon the team is an unforetold benefit.

I have no doubt they had a huge part to play in the success and as Mattie Donnelly so rightly said, the scary thing is, they are only just getting started, there is plenty more to come from this team.

To see the celebrations and the turnout for the homecoming in Omagh and Coalisland (and every road and roundabout in between) was special.

To see young children inspired by these lads and excited to try and emulate their success is great. The teams of 2003, 05 and 08 were the inspiration for many of the current team so it bodes well for the future of the Tyrone football if the next generation can see the work ethic and sacrifices that it takes to get to the top and how it is totally worth every sacrifice on days like last Saturday.

It was strange for the lads to not have Sam Maguire with them for the celebrations and for future functions and events this year.

They have literally given blood, sweat and tears to win this elusive cup and yet when they do, they are celebrating without it.

Historically it has been photos of the elderly with the cup and babies sitting in the cup that have been treasured by families for generations so for that not to be possible is disappointing.

It doesn’t take anything away from the win, but it did seem odd not to have the cup in any photographs.

Hopefully this will change and I know there are a few of the team getting married over the next year so for them to have Sam Maguire at their weddings would be very memorable indeed.

From being a unified team and considering each other brothers, to club championship starting next week and becoming local rivals again is both the most bizarre and one of the best things about the GAA.

The guys will wear their club jerseys with even more pride than their county jersey and that is as exciting a prospect as winning the All-Ireland.

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