Sean Cavanagh close to bringing down curtain on Tyrone career
Tyrone's Sean Cavanagh has dropped a hint that he is considering his future at inter-county level, following their defeat on Sunday to Mayo.
When asked about the future of the Tyrone team, Cavanagh expressed optimism about the continuing evolution of the side and their age profile.
However, when pressed on how much he personally was looking forward to the next few seasons, he seemed unusually circumspect.
"At the minute I don't even want to think about that," he began.
"I will see how it goes. It's hard with young children and it's a bit of a cliché, but I think over the next couple of months I will play a bit of club football and see how it goes. It's a big commitment. I felt great this year, but walking out there today you don't know what you are going to do."
These past couple of years have been momentous for Cavanagh. In August 2011 he tore a major shoulder tendon while weight training in preparation for the International Rules team. The following May he was playing for his club Moy against Derrytresk, just prior to the county Championship season beginning when he managed to do the exact same thing to the other shoulder.
Such was the improbability of these occurrences that Cavanagh's case has been the subject of medical studies.
After initially considering retirement, the 2008 Player of the Year repeated his arduous rehabilitation for a second time. He then went on to play in every single game with Tyrone this season – 21 in all – and was arguably as good as he ever was.
On coming back and hitting form again he explained, "You always do have that doubt in your mind that you can get to the top level.
"I do have belief in myself and one thing I have always had is the wee bit of confidence. I sort of thought I could do it, you always wondered if the body could get back to the level and my fitness levels have been great this year.
"Right now, you are sitting wondering if you can go for another year. But I will sit down and see how things go over the winter."
During the season he became a father for the second time and has two young daughters. With that as the backdrop, he has been under severe scrutiny following a series of deliberate pull-down tackles in this years' Championship, culminating in Joe Brolly's furious response of what he described as, "An absolute disgrace."
Within his comments he also stated, "He's a brilliant footballer, but you can forget about Sean Cavanagh as a man." Brolly later called Cavanagh to apologise for the personal nature of his comments, but stood over the general criticism.
While Cavanagh insists he was fine with what was said, indeed making the point that he will welcome the incoming 'black card' as he feels he has been repeatedly fouled in his playing career, there must be a sense that he has put up with enough at this stage.
In a recent interview he spoke of his pleasure in being home with his family, commenting, "You go inside your house and you're in that wee bubble of family. Whenever I do walk away from football it's probably one thing I'll enjoy the most. No one can hurt your family anymore."
Cavanagh has watched as a series of team-mates from Tyrone's first All-Ireland in 2003 have retired, such as Brian Dooher, Brian McGuigan and Ryan McMenamin. While there might have been speculation on the futures of Stephen O'Neill and Conor Gormley, the notion of Cavanagh retiring would not have been a commonly-held one.
He said: "You are looking around the dressing room and you have Darren McCurry who is maybe 19, Connor McAliskey is maybe 20, Mattie Donnelly, Ryan McKenna, Conor Clarke ... The majority of that team is still very young.
"There are always quality footballers in Tyrone and we have belief in ourselves. I certainly would not be too worried about the 2014 and 2015 seasons. There are some fantastic players there. We are obviously going to lose some of the big-name players there but there's always the opportunity for someone else to step up.
"Teams always evolve. We always felt that when Peter Canavan retired we thought there would be no team, but we went back and did it in '08. We have lost that many leaders over the past four or five years that people questioned could we get back to this stage and we have. We are still going strong."