GAA Football

Colm Cavanagh, on retiring from Tyrone: "I always tried to be the hardest worker in the room"

Cahair O'Kane caught up with Colm Cavanagh last night after the Tyrone man announced his retirement from inter-county duty…

Colm Cavanagh with his daughter Chloe after the final whistle in last year's semi-final defeat by Kerry. Picture by Seamus Loughran.

Cahair O’Kane: Is this a decision that’s been hanging over you?

Colm Cavanagh: “I’m probably relieved. I’ve thought about it for months, even at the end of last year. When the body was starting to break down this year with the knee and I wasn’t enjoying it as much as I had been, you have to rethink things. There’s numerous reasons for going now – the body was starting to break down, I’ve two weans at home, a new business started there and the stars aligned. People will think it’s strange from a football viewpoint in terms of a short season but personally, it suits perfectly for where I’m at in life.”

CO’K: How would you assess your own career? When you came in, you were ‘Sean’s brother’ and to finish having stepped out of that shadow, made your own role, won your own Allstars?

CC: “It’s not [easy to step out of that shadow]. When I came in there was that ‘Sean’s brother’ thing and I did get a lot of criticism, some warranted, some of it unwarranted. I was always a forward until u21s, then I came into the seniors and struggled to find my feet. To be fair to Mickey, he stuck with me in the midst of all the shit and people saying ‘you shouldn’t be there’ and ‘you’re only there because of your brother’.

He obviously had seen something. I spoke to Sean about this before – I probably appreciate what I have done a lot more than he does, because he did and won a lot of his early in his career. I had nothing for 10 years and then had a flurry for a few years. You don’t play for accolades but in years to come you might hold it in a bit more regard. I think I just appreciated things a lot more coming towards the end, and I was delighted to achieve that recognition.

But I took the bad press the same as the good, I didn’t really let it get to me. I always tried to be the hardest worker in the room. You talk to any kid, you tell them to put the head down and do the work and hopefully it’ll come through. That probably sums up what I did.”

CO’K: The sweeping role in which your career blossomed seems like a hard role to love – did you?

CC: “I genuinely did. I still clocked up really good distances and speeds. The lads always joked that I was doing nothing only standing in the square, and I’d be saying ‘have a look at the stats there’ [laughs]. It is a freedom role, you don’t have somebody standing on you and because I was half-decent at reading the game, that was half the battle.

There were boys could have played the role better than me from a physical point of view, but it’s what’s upstairs sometimes that’s half the challenge. When I was playing half-forward around 2011, Mickey saw I had the natural instinct to go back in and help, and come from deep. I enjoyed the tackling side of things and being a team player.

Once I got into that role, it was where I got the most kudos. Playing that role came about naturally, so it was a bit of luck as much as design. Mickey recognised it, I recognised it and I just took to it quite well.”

CO’K: Do you regret not winning a second All-Ireland?

CC: “Not at all. People would say would you not be looking back if Tyrone won it this year and I’m saying ‘no’. Winning things is great but just playing for Tyrone that length of time was a privilege in itself.

We had opportunities and we didn’t take them. That’s the beauty of sport. There’s different players that have been unbelievable servants to their county who never won All-Irelands. Winning things is nice to look back on but playing for that length of time, and looking at the talent I played with is crazy. Nobody can take that away from you.”

CO’K: What was the best thing about playing for Tyrone?

“The accolades and everything, that’s shite. See the big days? There is no feeling better than going out in Clones or Croke Park and hearing the roar of the supporters, and seeing what it means to the community. To older people, to kids. I still don’t realise sometimes what you mean as a role model to a kid, or an elderly person who lives for sport. People coming on the pitch to talk to you, those things. You can’t get a better feeling in life bar maybe the children. I’ll miss the big days. They’re not gonna happen with Covid this year, there’ll be no supporters this year and that’s disappointing. That’s what you play for.”

CO’K: Who’s the best player you played with in Tyrone?

“There’s been a serious amount of men with everything. If I was to pinpoint a player I looked up to and thought could do anything, it’s probably Stevie O’Neill. When I came in, I was going ‘am I really playing with that man?’ He was a stubborn hoor. He had a serious determination and drive, a bit like Dooher. In terms of skill, Stevie could do anything. Some of the stuff he did was crazy.”

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