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Tyrone hero Sean Cavanagh can bow out on real high, insists legend Harte



Winning combination: Sean Cavanagh and Mickey Harte have enjoyed great success at Tyrone. Photo: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

Winning combination: Sean Cavanagh and Mickey Harte have enjoyed great success at Tyrone. Photo: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

Winning combination: Sean Cavanagh and Mickey Harte have enjoyed great success at Tyrone. Photo: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

If Sean Cavanagh requires any additional motivation as he prepares to embark on what is expected to be his last Ulster Senior Football Championship campaign with Tyrone, then it comes in effusive terms from manager Mickey Harte.

Since he first took over the Red Hands towards the end of 2002, Harte has formed a bond with the long-serving Cavanagh which has remained one of the most enduring elements within a sport that has undergone a number of changes both on and off the field in the interim.

Cavanagh may have of late 'managed' his appearances in the O'Neill County jersey he has worn with such pride and distinction, but even before the team has kicked a ball in the current provincial series, Harte invokes the most glowing rhetoric to underline the importance he attaches to the Moy clubman's presence in his line-up.

"When you look back at Tyrone football through the ages, Sean Cavanagh will be the one player who will really stand out because of the longevity of his career," stated Harte. "Look at the number of big games in which he has played, look at the influence he has wielded in those games. He is right up there with Peter Canavan as an icon of Tyrone football and that's saying something."

Cavanagh's body of achievement is exceptional, his three All-Ireland medals highlighting a career that has blossomed at club, county, inter-provincial and international level.

Now, as he prepares to put his shoulder to the Ulster wheel for the last time, Harte sees his experience, skill and passion as key elements in advance of Sunday's confrontation with Derry.

It was a booming point from Cavanagh deep in the bowels of last year's Ulster final against Donegal that helped Tyrone regain the Anglo-Celt Cup for the first time since 2010, and Harte is among those not in the least surprised that Cavanagh, who has just recently established his own accountancy firm in Moy, continues to flourish in the demanding Championship arena.

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"Why wouldn't you want to have a player of Sean's calibre around the place?" queried Harte, the hint of incredulity clearly triggered by the feeling on the part of some that he might be past his sell-by date.

"He has made it quite clear that he is probably coming to the end of his career but, as I see it, he still has a huge role to play for us."

For Harte himself, this Ulster Championship and All-Ireland series will have special resonance given that the Tyrone county board, at a meeting towards the end of last year, failed to agree to extend his tenure beyond this year.

But far from being consumed by personal pressure, Harte is instead totally focused on eliciting top-drawer performances from his side. Indeed, nothing less will suffice since, assuming Derry are hurdled on Sunday, rejuvenated Donegal will be lurking with intent in the semi-final on June 18.

For now, though, Harte's world revolves round the all-too-familiar terrain of Celtic Park, where his side slalomed to an emphatic 3-14 to 0-12 win in the corresponding game last year - a result which Harte insists "counts for nothing" in the context of this weekend's encounter.

He may have injury concerns over Cathal McCarron and Justin McMahon, but he remains unflappable.

"From our own perspective there is only one certainty about this Ulster Championship and this is that we are facing Derry. Last year's result counts for nothing, of course," insisted Harte. "Having said that, I would hope that Sean Cavanagh can get the opportunity to end his career on a high."

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