Colm Cavanagh: 'You can see it in Seán, he is really loving coming to training'
Amid all the glowing coverage of Stephen Cluxton's record-breaking feat earlier this month, it was largely neglected that Seán Cavanagh equalled the 'old' appearance benchmark the very same day.
Cluxton made his 89th SFC start for Dublin against Monaghan on August 5.
But just two hours earlier, Cavanagh had joined Cluxton and Kerry brothers Tomás and Marc Ó Sé on the then record-equalling number of 88. The 34-year-old veteran looked perfectly at home back in familiar Croke Park surroundings as Tyrone laid waste to Armagh by a scarcely believable 18 points.
It was all in serene contrast to his previous HQ appearance, when what might have been his Croker swansong culminated in a double-yellow red card against Mayo in last year's quarter-final.
But Cavanagh felt compelled to come back for one last hurrah, partly because he knew there was more to come from Tyrone, partly (perhaps) because he simply couldn't finish up on such an incongruously catastrophic note.
A wise choice: 12 months on, the 2008 Footballer of the Year has a sixth Ulster senior medal in his locker and is back in another All-Ireland semi-final, craving the ultimate scalp. Dublin's.
His younger brother Colm is now probably more central to Tyrone's Sam Maguire ambitions ... but it's still clear that he and the rest of Mickey Harte's panel look up to Seán as their spiritual leader.
Barring some dramatic change-of-heart, this will be big brother's last season. By extension, Sunday's date with the Dubs will be his last ever game for the Red Hands ... unless the bookies are wrong and he ends up equalling Cluxton's record in the final!
Not that the Cavanaghs get too maudlin about it all.
"We don't really talk about it. I don't think about it too much," Colm demurs. "He has probably accepted that this will be his last year, whether he likes it or not, but me and him don't discuss that.
"I think that he has enjoyed this campaign the most of the last number of years. You can just see it in him that he is really loving coming to training and going to the gym.
"That's great to see because I think last year even, leading up to the Mayo game, I didn't see him doing the things that he is doing this year basically. So he is enjoying it.
"Me personally, it doesn't affect me at all as I'm just thinking about the next game and trying to win.
"He will probably look back in years to come, whenever he does finish ... but at the minute he is just living the moment and enjoying every time that he comes up to Garvaghey or Omagh."
His younger brother is enjoying it just as much. Mickey Harte described his 6'4" midfield general-cum-sweeper as "gold dust" after the quarter-final cruise past Armagh, so how does the man himself feel as he contemplates the ultimate Sky Blue challenge?
"Personally I'm feeling good, even though I am 30 years of age now!" he admits.
"I'm probably feeling as strong and as fit (as ever) and that's testament to the guys, who have got the team as a whole in as good a shape as they have been.
"I'm just really enjoying it. We are probably in a good enough place at the minute to take on Dublin, but you can analyse after the game whether we were or not. But the mood in the camp is good and everything is very, very positive."
Cavanagh is happy to report that the heavy blow to his hip, which forced his 59th minute exit against Armagh, won't deter him from tackling the All-Ireland champions.
"Lucky enough it's just a bit of bruising. It's taken a bit of time to heal, but nothing too sinister," he confirms.
Cavanagh accepts that the challenge posed by Dublin is "going to be huge" but he still anticipates a tight game.
He bats away suggestions that Tyrone are now close to the finished article.
"I don't think anybody's the finished article, including Dublin," he argues. "We're always learning. Yeah, it's probably been a work in progress the last number of years to try and find our feet, whether tactically, personnel wise. We went through a transition for a number of years."
He continues: "The dynamics of the panel have changed a lot over the last few years. Younger lads have come in and have really freshened things up with new ideas, and they have added value to the squad and aren't just happy to be part of it.
"They are striving to first of all get in the 26, and then the 15. To be successful in any way we need everybody pulling together and pushing each other on and that is what has happened in this campaign especially.
"You only have to come to any training and see in-house games when guys are falling out with each other and then going back to share a room that night and maybe not speaking for a while. But that is how fierce things are."