Sean Cavanagh has three All-Ireland medals, four Ulster championship gongs and numerous individual honours to his credit - but the Tyrone ace admitted last night that it was the tragic death of Michaela McAreavey which provided him with the most comforting award of his career to date.
“In the immediate aftermath of her death, I discovered just how many really good, genuine people there are in this country from all creeds and classes and trophies simply pale into insignificance in this context,” he said.
“Now that we are on the cusp of the National League, I know that Michaela would have wanted us to be pulling on our Tyrone jerseys and going out to do our very best. That’s exactly what we plan to do.”
The Moy clubman, a university contemporary of Michaela’s, believes that her death has proved a “unifying influence” on a broad scale within this country and has made it clear that the Tyrone players are now ready to respond to the courage and character that her father Mickey Harte has shown in returning to manage the side by flinging themselves into the pursuit of success.
“Let us not forget that Mickey has been to dark places with many families who required his help but I was very, very impressed to discover just how many good people there are who will respond to difficult situations in the most positive way,” he added.
“It has been a humbling experience. I think the best way we as players can honour Michaela’s memory is by trying to make 2011 a memorable year for Tyrone football.”
But he is quick to acknowledge that the Red Hands will find themselves in what he calls “strange surroundings” when they embark on their National League Division Two campaign against Derry on Sunday.
“We have always been used to playing in Division One so this will be a new test for us,” added Cavanagh. “But people are saying that there is not much difference between the top two divisions and I see where they are coming from.
“We face some very tough matches against team like Kildare, Meath and Donegal and we will have to be on our toes from the word go if we want to get promotion.”
The period of mourning following Michaela’s death drew the Tyrone players even closer together as a squad, he revealed.
“To be honest, we always had been pretty close but there seems to be an even stronger force working within us now,” he said. “Obviously we are going to be judged on our performances starting on Sunday against Derry but our aim will be to try and wipe out the memory of the relegation we suffered last year by bouncing straight back up again.”
And he is particularly anxious that Tyrone should enjoy a better championship run than they did last year.
“While we won the Ulster title, the manner of our defeat against Dublin in the All Ireland quarter-final really disappointed us,” he said.
“We beat ourselves that day, we shot too many wides. Now we feel we want to put that right — we think we are as good as any side in the country but of course we have to go out and prove that.”