Wednesday, 31 May 2017

CAVANAGH WARY OF TITLE CHALLENGERS thumbnailSean Cavanagh knows just how tought the battle for the Anglo-Celt cup will be this season.

THE good old days, when the Ulster Championship was a competitive, open and unpredictable festival of football are but a distant memory, but Sean Cavanagh is certain there are still mighty battles to be won before the Anglo-Celt Cup is secured.

It's widely accepted that once again, the title race is likely to feature just three genuine contenders - Tyrone, Donegal and Monaghan - and at least one of the leading trio will fall at the next hurdle.

Champions Tyrone take on Donegal in a Clones semi-final on June 18, and Cavanagh knows that it will be a world away from last Sunday's Celtic Park canter in which the Red Hands cruised to an 11 points win over Derry.

“I have played for 15 or 16 seasons where the games have been gruelling Ulster games. I remember Derry coming to Omagh in '06 and smashing us," the Tyrone captain recalled.

“I have those scars from playing teams like that, but in the last few years it has been one-sided games, there's no getting away from that.

“I could forgive a few of the younger players for feeling that they're not seeing that competitive Ulster Championship the way that the older guys would do.

“But we can't do much about that, we just have to get over the hurdles, and I have no doubt the next hurdle will not be anywhere near the same score-line."

Donegal scored a resounding victory over Tyrone in the league, and Cavanagh accepts that Rory Gallagher's new-look team is moving well and gearing up for a big Ulster and All-Ireland challenge this summer.

“We have to be sure that we know it's not going to be like this in three weeks time. Donegal blew us out of the water up in Ballybofey that Saturday night in the league, and they're not going to give us the space that we got in Celtic Park.

“It will be a typical Ulster battle and we have to be ready for it.

“We can't get carried away. We have the ground to make up on Donegal. They will fancy their chances with this new team they have and the way they played in the National League, and rightly so.

“So it's all there for us to go and prove ourselves again, we're going to look forward to that, and it's one rung of that Ulster Championship again."

Cavanagh (34) has made it clear that this is his last season as an inter-county footballer, but he remains excited by the challenge of championship football, and feels he's as ready as he ever was to take it on.

“I'm enjoying it, every second, every minute of it. It was maybe my 84th or 85th  championship game, my body's holding up, I'm feeling strong, I'm feeling good, and roll on Clones."

Derry were under pressure to restore pride following last year's heavy defeat to the Red Hands, but they failed to compete, and for the second season in a row, slumped to an 11 points defeat.

“We were expecting a physical Ulster encounter. It maybe just didn't materialise.

The early scores probably knocked the stuffing out of them to a certain extent.

“With nice playing conditions and some of the talent and some of the speed that we had coming off the bench, whenever we needed to kick on, we got those scores, and it probably worked out a bit easier than what we had anticipated."

The Oak Leafers came nowhere close to matching Tyrone's dynamic breaks from defence, and struggled to transition to a forward unit that suffered badly from a lack of service.

“I suppose we have been playing it a bit longer than they have been playing it.

“The nucleus of this squad has probably been trying to perfect that way of playing since 2013 at this stage.

“So we're maybe slightly ahead of them in terms of that evolution, and they have had a right few turnovers in players in the last couple of years.

“Coming away from the game, it's a job done for us, and I suspect Derry will be disappointed in the way they performed.

“We came away this time last year and Derry came through the back door and were a kick away from doing what Tipperary did, and could potentially have found themselves in the semi-final of an All-Ireland.

“So all is not lost for them, and all is not gained for us, but we're through the hurdle.

“We know it's not going to be anywhere near as easy against Donegal in there weeks time, but at least we're there, and we'll keep our heads down until then."

Meanwhile, Derry captain Enda Lynn admitted that they were unable to match Tyrone's strength in depth.

“Mark Lynch was the only experienced player we could bring on and he was carrying a wee knock," he said.

But Lynn added: "The championship isn't over as far as I'm concerned. It would be nice to have won the game today but you haven't won anything. You are just through to the next round.

“We have to knuckle down and hopefully get a run in the back door. Last year we were only a kick of a ball from the quarter final."

“It is very important. I don't  know what is going to happen over the next couple of weeks. Whether boys will walk away I don't know. We just have to get back at it."


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