By John Harrington
Four days after announcing his retirement from club football, Tyrone legend Sean Cavanagh admits he still has a “wee burning thing” inside him that makes him want to lace up his boots again.
Cavanagh’s final game saw him lose a Tyrone-relegation play-off at the weekend as Moy’s player manager when he came on as a sub but was unable to prevent his side’s 2-10 to 1-7 defeat to Coalisland.
And even though the former Footballer of the Year is now 40 years of age and believes the time is now right to hang up his boots, he does so with a sense of reluctance.
“I was combining playing with managing this year and sort of bringing myself on in the second-half which was weird at times,” Cavanagh told GAA.ie.
“I've been playing basketball as well for the last year or two and I kind of have to wise up at some point. I've got four young kids as well and a lot going on with my business.
“Just too much happening and the body slows down like everyone's does. It slowed down a little bit this year and it's probably time to call time on it. I've been playing with the club since 1998 so 25 years has a nice ring to it.
“If I'm honest, there's still a wee burning thing there. I think everyone is like that anyway, you always have this wee burning thing inside you going I could maybe do a little bit more. When you see John Doyle still going at 45 and playing well you're thinking, 'maybe if circumstances change'.
“But I think I have to grow up and be an adult at some point and take a little bit of responsibility for my own two wee lads who are starting to play football and I'm now coaching the U-6 and a halves which is the highlight of my night tonight. My girls do a lot of Irish dancing, music, and swimming and everything and anything.
“To make it at the top at any level with club or county you have to give a lot of sacrifice and commit to it. But I've a lot going on now with my own business and my own home. So I have to make the sacrifices for those things now rather than my own selfish reasons. So it's time to stop doing things for Sean and start doing things for others.”
Cavanagh is Tyrone’s most decorated footballer having won three All-Ireland titles, five Ulster championships, and five All-Star awards.
But when he reflects on his career, it’s the memories he’s made playing club football that mean the most to him.
“I think the older I've gotten the more I've gravitated towards my club,” says Cavangh. “There's that saying around how the county lads are the guys who go to your wedding and the club lads are the lads who lay you to rest.
“I think as you get older you realise the importance of the club and the community. I think we're all very tribal, so your own people mean a lot.
“If you asked me to pick one moment from my whole career and, as mad as it sounds, it was probably standing in Croke Park with my club in the Intermediate Club Final in February 2018.
“There were 9,000 people there, it was Baltic cold, but just to see all the people who mean the most to you..it's seeing the guys who coached you at eight or nine years of age standing there proud with Moy tops in Croke Park.
“That probably meant more to me that day than all the brilliant highs I had with Tyrone which were amazing, but were probably shorter lived than you realised at the time. The club is the thing that probably means the most to you as a person because it's the same club that now my children are wearing the jersey.
“Even for them to see the county final this year with the buzz and excitement, I was probably more excited for them than I was for myself. It just hit home how important the club scene is within the GAA.”
Cavanagh took over the Moy senior footballers as player-manager midway through the season when they were in relegation trouble and oversaw an impressive revival that saw them reach the Intermediate Final and qualify for the promotion play-offs.
Not surprisingly, the club are keen he remain as manager for the 2024 season, and it sounds like Cavanagh’s arm could be twisted.
“The guys were on to me last night, but I don't know. I haven't had that conversation yet with my wife!
“The expression I used to the guys was that I'd never say no to my club. I'll never manage another club. I never had an intention of going into management, it was more out of necessity because we weren't going so well this year and guys asked me to come in and try to steady the ship a little bit which we did and we did really well.
“I would have to see where the time commitment lies next year, but, no doubt, I'll be there in some capacity because it does mean a lot to me.
“I've been approached by a lot of clubs in the last number of weeks to try to take over other clubs in different counties and whatnot, but it's not something I'd be interested in.
“I wouldn't have the same passion of it wasn't The Moy or it wasn't Tyrone. I'm probably very traditional thinking in that sense. I have to be emotionally connected and I have to feel that when you're going home you're very much buying into the trying to win for your community piece.”
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