GAA Football

Tyrone revelling in playing without fear says Colm Cavanagh

AIB ambassador and former Tyrone footballer Colm Cavanagh is looking forward to this year's All-Ireland SFC final showdown between the Red Hands and Mayo on September 11. Picture by Sportsfile
Neil Loughran

IT was with a mixture of delight and frustration that Colm Cavanagh cheered Tyrone to victory over Kerry on Saturday – with the Moy man wondering what might have been had the Red Hands played “without fear” in the final years of his inter-county career.

Cavanagh came off the bench to bag a point in the successful 2008 All-Ireland final, and was a pivotal figure as Tyrone reached the 2018 decider, only to suffer disappointment at the hands of Dublin.

But other defeats to the Dubs, and Mayo, through the latter stages of the Mickey Harte years came to mind as the Kingdom were out-fought and out-thought by Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher’s ferocious Red Hands.

“Watching this team this year, they seem to be playing a lot freer and nearly without fear,” said the 34-year-old.

“I would have said this last couple of years watching Tyrone and playing with Tyrone that there was an awful lot of playing with the handbrake on and an awful lot of fear of making mistakes. I don’t know what that is but being part of those teams you just knew you were going to get read up in a video analysis or whatever it was, and boys were nearly afraid to take them chances.

“While watching Tyrone this year, there’s no doubt the guys made plenty of mistakes at the weekend and have done in the games gone by, but they are definitely taking a lot more risks and they are getting the rewards for it.

“It’s probably one of those things - change of management, change of style and change of approach, all of those things gathered in together. You see things happening in the games, kicking long balls in, sometimes aimlessly… that would never have happened over the last number of years.

“There’s things they are doing now and they have obviously been told ‘go out lads and play football’. There are mistakes being made but ultimately you have to live and die by it.

“The guys, even chatting to a few of them, they’ll tell you the same, that they are definitely playing with a lot more freedom. I wouldn’t say enjoyment, but they are able to take that risk that they probably wouldn’t have taken in years gone by.”

It is something Cavanagh, and the whole of Tyrone, will be hoping can bear fruit when September 11 rolls around. Confidence is sky high, the manner in which the odds were upset on Saturday following the Covid chaos that struck the Red Hand panel making it all the more remarkable.

Could they have scaled such heights under the previous regime? Cavanagh isn’t sure, and feels that freshness from the top has played into Tyrone’s hands during a tumultuous year.

“It’s very hard to say whether we could or not.

“Obviously it’s a different panel, the management has changed up the personnel, so it’s very difficult to say if they would be where they are today. I do think they are playing a lot freer, they seem to be a lot happier in terms of the way they’re taking the field and playing.

“Under Mickey and Gavin [Devlin], great guys and that, but they were very methodical in the way we were setting up, everything was fairly scenario-based. I’m sure Feargal and Brian are something similar but they definitely just seem to have that handbrake let go, just go and play football. Go and make mistakes and errors.

“Over the last number of years we’ve always got to good places, we’ve won some titles, we got to an All-Ireland final in 2018… we always got to a certain level but playing against Dublin and these other teams, we went into our shells a wee bit and didn’t express ourselves to our full ability.”

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