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Stunning journey with Moy means so much to Cavanagh


Having a ball: Sean Cavanagh says he didn’t understand the true worth of a club until spending more time on Moy duty
Having a ball: Sean Cavanagh says he didn’t understand the true worth of a club until spending more time on Moy duty
Sean Cavanagh at what he thought was his last T game at Croke Park
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

To follow Sean Cavanagh's Twitter feed since the moment he stepped off the merry-go-round of a 17-year county career with Tyrone is to bear witness to a man throwing the shackles off.

Freed from the responsibility of being county captain, of the necessity to portray a certain image, his entire bearing has become one of a footballer enjoying a farewell tour as his club Moy have made their way to an All-Ireland Intermediate Club final today, where they face Michael Glavey's of Roscommon.

After the Ulster final win over Rostrevor, he made sure to get a picture of himself with wife Fionnuala, daughters Clara and Eva and 10-month old son Sean.

He then got to reprise some of his ancient battles with Kerry foes in last weekend's semi-final win over An Ghaeltacht in the historic Semple Stadium.

All the while he has immersed himself in the club, taking part in fundraising charity car washes and enjoying being in a dressing room with Moy men for the longest period of his career.

"I love it. I am living the life now," he said of this unexpected twist in his sporting life.

Others can see the change in him. Clubmen have talked of a man transformed in his attitudes. It's 10 years since he won the Footballer of the Year award, and the last of three All-Irelands with Tyrone. He stands just over an hour away from adding to that with a precious club title.

It's not all about football either. When his gleaming new accountancy premises burned down last September, he received a flood of offers from fellow club people offering to temporarily house the business while he got things sorted.

The mood around the village has been exuberant.

"I have two girls who are at an age now where they are both in school, P1 and P3, and they are all talking about it at school. That's a very different experience from the mass crowds that go to watch county games. It's just not as personal as the intimacy you get with the club," said the 34-year-old.

Many county players, especially those that enjoy long careers, put their club a distant second. Their career wouldn't stick it otherwise. But Cavanagh is big enough to admit that the true worth of the club scene has only become apparent for him.

"It has been a real lease of life with me. I have now begun to really relate to the Crossmaglen, the Slaughtneil thing and what guys have been saying to me when I went to play Railway Cup in years gone past," he said. "They talked about the club. I didn't understand that. I was looking down on that and thinking, 'It's only the club. Only a thousand people are going to that game. I played in Croke Park in front of 82,000 people'. I looked at it like that."

The giddy mood has taken people of all faiths and none along with Moy on this ride.

"The level of emotion at the end of a club game, the likes of Saturday, seeing people who you maybe didn't even recognise as GAA supporters, people from different religions and different ethnic backgrounds hugging you and being very much part of the community success..." stated Cavanagh with some wonder.

"I have no doubt there will be plenty of people that have never been to a GAA game and live in Moy that will be travelling to Croke Park for Saturday night. For me, that's special. That's uniting a community."

The composition of the club is changing, after the village itself was at the epicentre of Troubles violence during the '70s, when 26 people were killed within a 10-mile radius.

"There are guys on our team who are not from a Roman Catholic background at all. That's class. That to me is the new GAA," said Cavanagh.

Those from outside the county used to wonder about Moy. Ten years ago, they had four players that played in an All-Ireland final against Kerry - Sean and his brother Colm, Philly Jordan and Ryan Mellon. A fifth, Collie Holmes, was at midfield but had left Moy some years before.

With that base, they should have established themselves as a serious force.

"Whenever you added us up together and Collie (Cavanagh) later, along with the four or five that were real good players in Moy at that stage, we had aspirations of a senior Championship," he reflected.

Then, the split came with Holmes and his brother Paul, an exceptionally talented county minor and Under-21 star who suffered badly with injuries, leaving to join Armagh Harps.

In 2013, they reached the semi-final of the Tyrone Championship for the first time in 50 years, to be beaten by Carrickmore. But those disappointments have not coloured the special journey. When Tyrone lost to Dublin in last year's All-Ireland semi-final, Cavanagh thought he was bidding Croke Park a tearful farewell.

"Not in a million years would I ever have believed that I would be pulling on a Moy jersey in Croke Park," he said.

"The last Tyrone Championship our club had won was 1982, we won the Intermediate Championship and my father was on the team. I was following Moy for the guts of 27, 28 years and I have never seen them win any Championship.

"If there's such a thing as fate, it has certainly worked well for me. What it has also done is made me forget about that void, that fear I thought was going to come when I was lying in the house, wondering what to do with myself."

Life hasn't been like that. Instead, he has been tipping down to the local field all winter, mainlining the Championship buzz for months.

He added: "With the club, it's the boys you were playing with from school, guys I have been playing with from seven or eight years of age. You don't get that with county football."

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