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Cavanagh unwise to be sniping from the sidelines



Strong words: Sean Cavanagh (left) has been critical of Mickey Harte’s management

Strong words: Sean Cavanagh (left) has been critical of Mickey Harte’s management

Peter Canavan

Peter Canavan

Strong words: Sean Cavanagh (left) has been critical of Mickey Harte’s management

With the exception of Peter Canavan, there has been no better Tyrone player than Seán Cavanagh in modern times.

And since the last 16 years yielded riches previously unseen in Tyrone, a case can be made for declaring the pair the best two footballers the county has ever produced. No 1?

Now there's a subject for debate, but I'm on the side of Canavan on the basis that he spent many years struggling to make the breakthrough, whereas Cavanagh came aboard at the start of the golden era.

It's 10 years since Tyrone won their last All-Ireland title, during which Cavanagh remained a colossal driving force up to his retirement last year. He was the ultimate role model, on and off the pitch, earning huge respect throughout the country and an unwavering gratitude in Tyrone.

Always a man to express interesting opinions during his playing days, it's no surprise that he continues to do so now. It's curious, however, that he has taken to lobbing darts in the direction of Mickey Harte so soon after leaving the dressing-room. It's doing neither him nor Tyrone any favours and especially not during the championship.

Last week, he described Harte's management style as "quite autocratic at times".

There was more too. He said that Tyrone "hadn't really played with any structure in the forward unit" in recent years and suggested that was the reason why some forwards, who were highly-rated early in their careers, didn't develop as expected.

And when Tyrone lost to Monaghan last Sunday, Cavanagh queried the decision to replace his brother Colm at half-time.

Describing Colm's absence in the second half as "a huge blow to the team," he said they needed a player of his experience and stature to help make the right decisions in the second half. Curiously, Seán said last week that Harte faced a big decision whether to select Colm, who hasn't played much this year due to injury.

"It's a big risk throwing him into a match of that magnitude because it's going to be hot and heavy from an early stage," he said.

Given Cavanagh's deserved reputation, his comments carry considerable weight, especially in Tyrone.

Naturally, disappointment is rife throughout the county after exiting the Ulster Championship at the first fence, creating a climate where someone has to be allocated the blame.

It takes no great powers of deduction to work out that if Cavanagh is raising questions about aspects of the Harte regime, it will encourage Tyrone supporters to do the same.

There may well be solid grounds for challenging the manager but is this the time to do it? Tyrone's championship season is still very much alive so where's the benefit in sniping from the sidelines?

On the contrary, it may be counter-productive, since it gives players an excuse later on.

They can hide behind Cavanagh's comments, pointing out that if such a major figure had reservations, they can hardly be blamed if things go wrong again.

Just as there was an over-reaction to Tipperary hurlers' defeat by Limerick, Tyrone's loss to Monaghan has also been depicted as something it wasn't.

Monaghan have been Tyrone's equals for quite some time now, the pendulum swinging slightly one way or the other year-on-year.

A two-point defeat against a Monaghan team that even managed to beat Dublin this year should not be depicted as a monumental power failure by Tyrone.

There were several references after Sunday's game to the need for Tyrone to refine their attacking play which, allegedly, wasn't sufficiently creative.

How then did they score 1-16, a return that would have won all except two games in the Ulster Championship over the last five years - and probably as many over the previous decade?

The argument will be made that Tyrone's goal came so late in stoppage time that it made no real difference.

Really? What if there were another 90 seconds remaining and they scored a second goal to win by a point?

That would have changed the entire focus of the analysis, switching it towards Tyrone's steely resolve.

Harte would, of course, have been praised for maintaining such a winning mentality in the camp.

Instead, he is being targeted for criticism. Cavanagh mentioned Harte's many qualities too but he knows full well that the rest of his comments will draw far more attention.

Would it not be better for Tyrone if he waited to see how they fared in the qualifiers? Expecting Tyrone to win more All-Ireland titles very soon is comforting for supporters but they need to be realistic too.

Just because the Red Hands wrapped around Sam Maguire three times in 2003-'05-'08, there's no guarantee that it will happen any time soon. And that's whether Harte stays or goes.

Many Meath supporters believed that Seán Boylan had overstayed his welcome when he completed 23 years as manager in 2005 and that new voices would lead the Royals in a new and exciting direction.

And what happened? Meath haven't been in Division 1 for 12 years, won one Leinster title in controversial circumstances and aren't rated as big-time contenders any more.

Memo to Harte's critics: be careful what you wish for.

Belfast Telegraph