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Tyrone's Sean Cavanagh says team must learn from mistakes

By John Campbell

Tyrone captain Sean Cavanagh is never less than refreshingly honest. And when he admits that his team's failure to reach the Allianz League semi-finals was "a big setback" you sense the disappointment that he has experienced.

But now Cavanagh, one of the most decorated players in the modern game, believes that the Red Hands can more than atone for the inconsistency they revealed in the second-half of the league in particular by making a big impact in the Ulster Championship.

Since their one-point defeat to Dublin in their last league game, Tyrone's sole focus has been on attaining maximum levels of fitness and conditioning for the visit of Down on Sunday week.

This could prove a defining game for Mickey Harte's side and no one is more aware of this than the articulate Cavanagh.

While he is looking forward to leading the team out for the first time in the championship, he knows he will be doing so against a backdrop of apprehension and uncertainty because of their recent form.

"The fact that we got to the league final last year actually stood to us as the summer unfolded," recalls Cavanagh.

"Dublin beat us by a point and while some people spoke of a morale-boosting loss, we were disappointed at the outcome. But we had got two extra competitive games in the league which proved valuable.

"We had hoped to benefit from something similar this year but it wasn't to be. In our last league game against Dublin a few weeks ago, we conceded two goals in the opening 70 seconds or so and we were chasing the game from there.

"Yet we managed to get the lion's share of possession after that and we ran them very close in the end."

Down experienced similar frustration in Division Two, missing out on promotion after losing their last two games against Laois and Meath and Cavanagh accepts that they will be keen to atone for this lapse in the championship.

Nor does the Tyrone skipper feel that his own team's chances will in any way be bolstered because they will be in action at Healy Park, Omagh.

"Down through the years, Healy Park was seen as a fortress for us and it suited us well," reflects Cavanagh.

"But there has been indifferent form lately and for some reason we might thrive away from home. But you play the cards you are dealt and we do not worry too much if we are at home or away."

What Tyrone clearly do worry about is the fact that they have been conceding big scores lately.

A glance at some of their recent league statistics confirms that one of manager Harte's priorities for Sunday week will be to ensure defensive stability in the face of a Down attack that, if plied with possession, can chalk up scores, particularly through Donal O'Hare, Mark Poland, Benny Coulter and the emerging Niall Madine.

Against Kildare, Tyrone conceded 1-21, Kerry totted up a whopping 3-15, Cork registered 2-14 and Dublin hit 3-10.

These are not the kind of totals that Tyrone have been accustomed to leaking in recent years and while there is speculation that ex-skipper Stephen O'Neill could return to action in the championship at some stage, the team does not actually need his services as a matter of urgency right now.

Darren McCurry, Connor McAliskey, Mattie Donnelly and Kyle Coney, assuming they are all fit, are well capable of taking scores that can smooth Tyrone's path to progress but only if remedial action is taken in relation to the composition of the defence.

Five-times All Star Cavanagh, who has three All-Ireland medals and four Ulster championship honours, recognises that further prizes will be hard won because of the even higher levels of preparation being undertaken by teams.

"I am an optimistic person by nature but I honestly believe that we have the talent and the quality within our squad to move forward," he insists.

"But we have to learn from recent experience that we can't allow teams to steal a seven or eight point march on us. When we attack teams we have players who can break the line if they get decent possession and that's important.

"Even Dublin look very good when they are playing their running game but when they are put under a bit of pressure it can be different.

"The Ulster Championship has never been more open and we have to give it everything we've got."

Belfast Telegraph

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