Tyrone captain Sean Cavanagh on road to recovery
Published 30/01/2014 | 01:32
Here's a statistic for you; Tyrone's Sean Cavanagh has never won a game of football in Celtic Park.
This Saturday night, he gets a chance to put that right. Speaking at the Allianz National Leagues launch in Belfast yesterday, Cavanagh stated that Tyrone will be looking to repeat last year's start to the league, when two opening wins away to Down and Mayo provided a momentum that they sustained all the way to late August.
"Up in Celtic Park, Derry make life difficult," said the new Red Hands captain.
"There would be an awful lot of our boys around Ardboe and Cookstown and for them, Derry are number one with the rivalry.
"They don't really care about Donegal and Armagh, whereas I would be different (Armagh forming the local rivalry for the Moy man).
"The crowd is very close to the pitch, it is a tight pitch and yeah, it will be tough on Saturday night, no doubt."
It's a busy time for Cavanagh.
As well as the annual rush to process tax returns that the accountant is "swamped" in, he has been in intensive recuperation from the osteo-pubis that has bothered him since last summer, a persistent twinge in the knee and an abductor muscle problem.
With all that hampering him, he admits it would be unlikely he will play much of a part in Saturday's night's opener, although he hopes to see some action before the three-week break.
He said: "I have been training the last couple of nights. The body has been coming on rightly now although the fitness isn't as good as I would like it to be at this time of year, but I am on the road to full fitness.
"The last couple of sessions I have been back with the boys.
"I have been doing a bit of training on my own for a couple of weeks before that. But it needs a bit of time to get that match-sharpness.
"I hope over the next couple of weekends I get a bit of gametime and take it from there. But I will be ready to be in full flight after the break."
The time spent on the sidelines has allowed him a perfect perspective on the progress of the fringe players who acquitted themselves with distinction in January, reaching the McKenna Cup final.
"Tyrone always do well in the McKenna Cup, but whenever I looked at the Tyrone team to face Donegal, you were almost a wee bit frightened," he admitted.
"You can only admire how some of our guys performed against seasoned campaigners.
"I think we knew and I have been saying it for a couple of years now that we know the talents is there because you can see it in training every night. You are marking these boys in training every time you go out."
"You see the likes of Ronan O'Neill (pictured) coming in last year, Ronan McNabb, but they were coming in after injuries and they weren't firing on all cylinders.
"But we've known for a long time and can see that there has been quality around the squad, who are getting to express that now."
As a player who is often given to taking alternative viewpoints on the game, Cavanagh had some interesting things to say when it was put to him that Tyrone may struggle in having to play four of their seven league games away from home for the second successive year.
"We actually manage to play really well away from home last year. Omagh, sometimes it nice to have the home support and whatnot, 9,000 people there it gives you a massive lift.
"In terms of surface, sometimes the games we play away allows you to play a bit more football and I always thought that maybe suits us a little better.
"Down through the years, Healy Park was a fortress for us and it suited us well. But there has been indifferent form since that and for some reason we might thrive away from home. But you play the cards you are dealt and we will not worry too much if we are home or away."
Last year after the All-Ireland semi-final loss, Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice suggested that it had felt like an 'All-Ireland year' to him. Cavanagh cautions against that kind of talk in January, but adds, "I am an optimistic person anyway, but I know we have the talent and the quality within the squad.
"It's like every year, you strive to get the team tipped into a bit of gear through the National Leagues, but it's only really when you hit May, June, July that you really feel it."