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Cavanagh still trophy hungry

Sean wants a seventh McKenna crown

By John Campbell

Tyrone triple All-Ireland winner Sean Cavanagh is set to extend a significant personal record this month.

The Moy clubman has played in 32 Dr McKenna Cup games for his county, sharing in six outright triumphs in the process.

And as he prepares to lead the side into the competition once again having been at the helm when a third successive coup was achieved last year, accountant Cavanagh can reflect on some notable statistics.

He was in the Tyrone side which won the competition in 2004, '05, '06 and '07 and also played his part in bringing the silverware to the O'Neill county in 2013 and 2014.

Injury precluded his full involvement in Tyrone's capture of the trophy in 2012 but now, as visions of a second helping of a four-in-a-row feat under Mickey Harte's watch form on the horizon, Cavanagh is poised to unleash his experience to what he hopes will be good effect.

Tyrone's triumph in the competition in 2004 was both memorable and particularly poignant.

The side was captained by the late Cormac McAnallen and Cavanagh found himself lining up alongside the iconic Eglish player in the final against Donegal having commenced the campaign in the colours of UUJ in what was the first year that the university teams took part in the competition.

Prior to that, the competition had been played on a straight knock-out basis and Cavanagh's superb consistency has ensured that he has generally been at the fulcrum of his county's dominance of the tournament over the course of the past decade.

Tyrone PRO Eunan Lindsay believes that Cavanagh's "absolute commitment" to Tyrone is one of the main reasons why the McKenna Cup has come to rest so often there.

"I don't think that any player has taken part in more McKenna Cup matches than Sean," points out Lindsay. "To be fair, when the competition was staged on a straight knock-out basis and when a greater spread of counties were winning it, the opportunity to tot up an impressive number of appearances was maybe not there.

"It's great that we still have Sean in there as captain to set a terrific example especially for the younger players we now have on board."

Tyrone could hardly have asked for a more appetising opening fixture this time round as they must travel to meet their great rivals Armagh at the Athletic Grounds.

It will be the first time the teams will have crossed swords since their All-Ireland qualifier meeting last summer when Armagh surprisingly triumphed at Healy Park, Omagh, en route to the All-Ireland quarter-finals in which they were beaten by Donegal.

"I have to admit that the defeat to Armagh that day in Omagh was a real low point for me," admits Cavanagh.

"We never really got going and Armagh were physically strong as well as skilful. I think we have got to impose our physicality more in 2015 but I still believe we have a lot of good players in our squad even though some of our more experienced boys have retired and others have still to return."

Cavanagh shares manager Harte's enthusiasm for the early-season competition and agrees that the fact that Sunday's game will herald Kieran McGeeney's competitive debut as Armagh manager will add an extra dimension to the tie.

For his part, Harte stresses that, if anything, the McKenna Cup, now sponsored by the Bank of Ireland, will have even more importance this year.

"When you think that the Allianz League will get under way at the end of January, you know for sure that managers will be very keen to get their settled line-ups and their strategy in place," says Harte.

"I like this competition and I always want to see Tyrone win it if they can. I see it as important and that's why we will be taking it very seriously."

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