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Write off Tyrone at your own risk: Sean Cavanagh

By John Campbell

Prior to the Ulster Championship swinging into action, Tyrone skipper Sean Cavanagh refused to join in the chorus proclaiming even then that Dublin were a safe bet to retain the Sam Maguire Cup.

Instead, the triple All-Ireland winner took the view that while Jim Gavin's side were very much in the driving seat, this did not rule out the possibility that they could be overtaken.

And while Dublin have since duly confirmed their entry into the Leinster final in which they will meet revitalised Meath, Cavanagh himself can take a big step towards challenging their authority by leading Tyrone to victory over Armagh in Sunday's qualifier at Healy Park, Omagh.

But the Red Hands skipper is quick to emphasise that his side are taking "small steps" towards what he hopes will be a journey into the concluding stages of the All-Ireland series.

Cavanagh's cautious approach is understandable. Tyrone failed to make the league semi-finals, then drew with Down before winning their Ulster championship quarter-final replay, followed this up with a defeat to Monaghan and in their most recent encounter, overwhelmed a poor Louth side.

It's not the most imposing track record by any means and Cavanagh, ever the realist, is acutely conscious that Tyrone are still a team in transition.

Yet his appraisal of Dublin's All-Ireland title prospects has been lent further credence by Kerry's convincing victory over Cork last Sunday, Mayo's anticipated extension of their period of dominance in Connacht and Meath's re-emergence as a potentially potent force.

That's not to forget, either, the viable credentials which Ulster finalists Monaghan and Donegal offer, nor indeed the possibility that Cork will recover.

"When I spoke before the Ulster Championship, my assessment of Dublin's chances was based on the fact that any team in any competition can be caught on a given day," stresses Cavanagh.

"The qualifiers will now provide confirmation of what teams can join the four provincial champions in the last eight of the All-Ireland race and we would like to be in there ourselves."

Last year Dublin provided the Red Hands and everyone else indeed with proof, if proof were needed, that a particularly strong panel is required if major prizes are to be annexed.

"Dublin showed last year that you need a big squad. We are a big county and I feel we have a panel of good players, any one of whom can do a job when asked," insists Cavanagh.

To date this year, manager Mickey Harte has used 32 players and although Barry Tierney, P J Lavery, Kevin Gallagher, Conor Clarke and Peter Harte are out of contention for Sunday's game, there is not the slightest hint of panic within the Red Hands ranks.

P J Quinn, too, is a doubt after picking up an injury in a club game although Dermot Carlin and Tiernan McCann are expected to be in the frame for places when Harte confirms his line-up tonight.

And even though Tyrone racked up 2-22 in beating hapless Louth, the notion that the team that did duty on that occasion will be rubber-stamped for action against Armagh is nothing more than fanciful thinking according to county PRO Eunan Lindsay.

"It might be reasonable to believe that it would be a case of same again but Mickey Harte has so many options and he is so keen to keep competition for places sharp that you could never second-guess him," reveals Lindsay.

Ronan O'Neill, Conor Gormley and Mark Donnelly, three players who would walk onto virtually any other team in the country, were deemed as surplus to requirements against Louth yet they may well figure strongly for this Armagh showdown.

Skipper Cavanagh is confident that Tyrone can continue their championship march.

"We ourselves fell to a benchmark side in Monaghan but we are very much up for this game against Armagh. Games between Armagh and Tyrone take on a life of their own as we all know," adds Cavanagh.

Belfast Telegraph


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