Tyrone star Cavanagh raring to shoulder load again
When Sean Cavanagh's shoulder was repaired by a specialist in Santry Sports Clinic after a maximum bench-press act of “bravado” with two of his International Rules colleagues went wrong in 2011, he was told that the injury sustained had a “one in two million chance” of ever occurring again.
It was career-threatening at the time, a torn left pec major tendon, and given how the surgeon had seen so few of them before, Cavanagh's future was uncertain.
The operation to repair it was, however, successful and by early February the four time All Star was back on the field for Tyrone's league campaign, safe in the knowledge that it was incredibly unlikely to happen again.
But by late May, he was right back to square one, those outlandish odds kicking in as Cavanagh headed back down the road to the same surgeon after ripping the same tendon on his other shoulder.
His own disbelief was multiplied by the man sitting opposite him behind a desk in a plush building on Dublin's northside.
“He couldn't believe it,” Cavanagh said. “It was the exact same injury and I was told the first time that there was a one in two million chance that you suffer an injury like that again. The surgeon had only ever seen one of them and he is a shoulder specialist. I was just really unlucky.
“It is so unusual that he has actually written a case study about repairing pec majors on the basis of what I have done.
“He was telling me that he has given lectures about it to guys over in England and across the world, so at least they will be talking about me somewhere.”
We could have been talking about him as a 'former' Tyrone player if his initial sentiment after doing the damage while executing a tackle had sustained for any longer than it did. For three or four days after the diagnosis, Cavanagh battled with an overpowering feeling that he had played his last game of football.
Instead he is looking forward to playing a key role in Saturday night’s McKenna Cup final clash with Monaghan.
“I was in doubt for about three or four days,” he admitted. “I was disgusted, obviously, after I did the second one and I said to my wife, ‘I am not going back, I have packed it in.’ I suppose I still had that doubt that the surgeon might say to me, ‘you might not get back’.”
The quality of the repair work and the prognosis of his specialist soon had him thinking differently. “Four days after I got the operation, he told me in recovery that it was a better fix than the first one. I knew that the first one felt good so I probably knew back then if it was going to be the same fix or even better, that I would be back. I decided I was going to push myself and push myself really hard.”
Cavanagh's shoulders have been sufficiently road tested in the McKenna Cup and when Fermanagh defender Marty O'Brien hauled him down in the first half of Sunday's semi-final in Armagh, his quickness in getting back to his feet was another step in the right direction. “I took a couple of heavy knocks but the shoulder still feels fine. I am feeling physically good and while the rest of the guys were taking the winter off and enjoying themselves, I was in the gym, running. I had my break last summer and I am probably feeling the benefits of it now,” he said.
“The body feels good and feels strong so, please God, I will be able to drive on. It has really been the guts of a year and a half since I felt as sharp as I do right now.”
Going to watch the team, especially with brother Colm filling in for him at midfield, helped to ease the frustration.
“It probably gave me a wee bit of a lift to attend the games at times because I was so disheartened. It has been a hard year and a half for me but, thankfully, I have come out the other side of it,” he added.
Cavanagh is the first of the trio of key players that Tyrone had to do without last summer, as the very promising Ronan O'Neill (cruciate) and Kyle Coney (groin) prepare for their comebacks.
With all three back in action, Tyrone look a different prospect but it's the sight of Cavanagh on those rampaging runs that will embolden them most of all.
“That is what I enjoy... moving up and down the pitch, getting around,” said Cavanagh. “I have always enjoyed playing No 9 and I have played there a number of years at this stage and whenever you are doing that, you are enjoying your football.
“There is a fantastic group of players in this Tyrone team. There is no such thing as pecking orders anymore. I love the game and I always have loved the game. I go out and play every game with my heart on my sleeve. I really want to play on for as long as I can, as long as my body lets me.
“When you get to my stage in your career, you have to appreciate every game, whether it is the McKenna Cup or the National League. You treat every game the same when you have that jersey on you.”