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Super-committed Sean knows the odds are in his favour

By Declan Bogue

Published 23/11/2016

Just the ticket: Moy and Tyrone footballer Sean Cavanagh at the GRMA Launch at Croke Park in Dublin. The GRMA (go raibh maith agat) scheme is a new GAA membership card
Just the ticket: Moy and Tyrone footballer Sean Cavanagh at the GRMA Launch at Croke Park in Dublin. The GRMA (go raibh maith agat) scheme is a new GAA membership card

The comedian Chris Rock came off with a great line once, stating: "A man is basically as faithful as his options." He was making the point that all the moral hand-wringing by the Republican party over Bill Clinton's Oval Office antics of the time were partly motivated by jealousy.

We can take some of that logic and apply it to the modern-day inter-county footballer and their desire to give it another year once they pass the threshold of 30.

Basically, they fall into two categories; those who have a chance of winning something, and those who don't.

Take Monaghan duo Dick Clerkin and Paul Finlay as examples. Both men stepped away from the inter-county circuit in recent weeks with grace and humility. Clerkin played as long ago as 1999, while Finlay's county debut was made famous by downing then-All-Ireland champions Armagh in the preliminary round of the 2003 Ulster Championship.

They were the lucky ones, because when all seemed lost and they could have walked away, along came Malachy O'Rourke to manage their county with both men already in their 30s. They finished up with two provincial medals apiece.

And while Monaghan could win another Ulster medal for sure, they are some way off challenging for an All-Ireland title. That thought would have surely played a part in their decisions.

Then you come to Sean Cavanagh. He is now getting ready for his 16th season as a Tyrone footballer. At a launch in Croke Park yesterday, ironically for a GAA loyalty card, he outlined the heavy schedule that was already under way.

While the rest of us are merrily putting on our winter coat of fat and blubber, Cavanagh is doing things differently.

"Last week I was training with Tyrone on Tuesday and Thursday, I was in the gym with Tyrone on Wednesday, in the gym with the Moy on Friday and doing my own stuff," he said.

"I did a couple of things at the weekend as well, forest park runs and things. That's the off season."

If he did a 'couple' of things at the weekend, then that only leaves him with Monday for resting up. He later wondered aloud: "I'm trying to work out how (Wayne) Rooney has the time to go on the rip because you don't really have that many days to recover from a hangover."

During peak season, he has one night off - a Monday. There is no difference from one end of the year to the other. The morning after each training session, which he admits leave him feeling wrecked, a message will drop in the Tyrone players' WhatsApp group with all their readings from the night before - distance covered, top speed, average speed and so on.

For a while, it was fashionable to say all of this was grinding down all of the players. Having recently read Cavan goalkeeper Alan O'Mara's account of his depression, he certainly felt too much of his identity was tied up in football, but admitted this was an issue for he alone to deal with.

A phrase was even coined for this 'abuse' of players - indentured slavery. Asked about that, Cavanagh replied: "I love going to the gym in the evening to make myself stronger or faster to still compete at this level.

"The commitment is mental, completely mental. There is no other way of putting it but at the same time if you didn't want to do it, you wouldn't. You realise you have to do it to compete but you do get hooked. You hear about people getting hooked on the gym, you get hooked on that feeling of trying to make yourself better."

It's not for all. This week, it emerged that a number of Cavan's key players - such as David Givney, Eugene Keating, Feargal Flanagan and Cian Mackey - will not be available to new manager Mattie McGleenan for their bid to establish themselves in Division One. The future looks grim.

In Derry, they appear to be down to half a team already. While there are some who are pursuing their career, there is an overall pessimism hanging over the county.

The situation is no better in Down, with paltry training attendances. Club players called into the training panel have been invited on board, gone in and had a look for themselves and realised that it's not for them. A man, as Chris Rock says, is only as faithful as his options. And most footballers are only as loyal as their chances of success.

Belfast Telegraph

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