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Tyrone's Sean Cavanagh relishing return to the big time

By Declan Bogue

ItI could be the first time we see Tyrone captain Sean Cavanagh take his place on the field of play in 2014, with the Red Hands and guests Mayo both looking to pick up their first wins in the National League tomorrow ahead of the three-week break.

Tyrone's draw with Derry last Saturday night extended their fallow record against their neighbours in Celtic Park, while Mayo were edged out by one point against Kildare in a high-scoring league opener in Newbridge.

And while they came up short in trying to overturn a poor record against Derry, Tyrone will also be aware they are coming up against a team that relish these encounters. Last year a stoppage time penalty converted by Stephen O'Neill – also the second game of their league campaign – was enough to bring the points north.

Yet in the championship, Mayo beat Tyrone in the quarter-finals in 2004 and were the dominant side in last year's All-Ireland semi-final, winning 1-16 to 0-13.

That defeat remains lodged in the throat of Cavanagh.

"It annoys me still," the Moy man said.

"They have done well against us in important games over the last few years that I have been playing and when you see those green jerseys again it will bring back some of the ghosts of that day in Croke Park.

"But no doubt there will be different personnel. It's different football, the start of February to August, but it will be a massively important game for us to the extent that if we can win that game it maybe will banish a few ghosts."

January football is one thing, but the league is a huge step up. For long periods of the second half against Derry it was painfully obvious how Tyrone lacked Cavanagh's physicality, for all the fine touches of Conan Grugan.

Afterwards, Mickey Harte responded to questions about who he might welcome back, saying: "Sean might be ready to take his place on the bench again. I don't think he would be ready to start."

Should he be introduced, he might get a chance to tangle with Aidan O'Shea. With his brother Seamus out until after the league break and Tom Parsons breaking down after only eight minutes into their opener, Mayo are short-stocked in this sector.

However, as keen as Cavanagh was to play before now, he also appreciates that some time was needed to coax weary bodies along and have them firing by the time the summer swings round.

"It probably worked out well because Mickey got a look at the other lads, who did a fantastic job, and he probably needed that," said the 30-year-old accountant.

"It meant Joe McMahon, Conor Gormley, Stephen O'Neill and boys like that could get their injuries cleaned up and they will probably know an awful lot more about the boys coming into the squad."

Right now, nobody is looking past double winners Dublin to retain their crowns, but as Cavanagh ominously warned: "We will certainly be looking to knock them off their perch this year and with the talent we have we are among the best teams in Ireland. So we just have to get it out of them."

Cavanagh is back in business. Watch this space.

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