Ger Cavlan: a spectator

Depending on ticket allocation Ger Cavlan intends to be in Croke Park next Sunday. But it will be as one of the thousands of Tyrone supporters urging on Mickey Harte's men. It could, it should, have been so much different. But then so should many things in Cavlan's life.

If things had worked out differently during the past 12 months there is no doubt he would have been in the squad shakedown. At 31 he still has the necessary time on his side to resurrect his county career. Paradoxically, that's what makes it so much more frustrating.

"Sure, it's tough. The whole place has been hectic. The fans are there asking you what you think. They want to know if you have any inside information on what is happening."

Keeping in contact with his friends in the squad helps provide a feel for what is going on. However, it doesn't make it any easier. The prospect of being in realistic contention for an All Ireland medal doesn't come around too often in a career.

Being part of the historic Tyrone team that won the breakthrough Sam in 2003 ensured that Ger Cavlan would always have a place in the county's folklore. Injury played its role in him missing out in 2005.

This time around the circumstances that led to the Dungannon Clarkes player being part of the county fringe were totally unrelated to football. They were self-inflicted.

The Tyrone player can understand the sentiments expressed regarding his involvement in illegal dog-fighting circles. His conviction last April and the subsequent exposure that it generated as part of a BBC television documentary are part of a permanent record.

The television images of Cavlan the majestic player were in stark contrast to the pictures of mauled pit bulls.

That part of his life, he acknowledges, can never be erased. Ger Cavlan is not looking for a sanitised version of events to be portrayed. Whatever his critics might think of him, he has never flinched from taking punishment on or off the pitch.

But he does want to move on. As far as the courts and the judiciary are concerned the Dungannon man has been punished. A year on from being the subject of a forensic media examination his focus is firmly on family and football. Both provided the support he so desperately needed when his personal circumstances were at their lowest ebb.

It would have been convenient for the Tyrone County Board and for the GAA establishment to have publicly pilloried Cavlan. The easiest option for manager Mickey Harte would have been to have made a public pledge of rejecting the player's services. Neither get-out clause was invoked.

When Mickey Harte drew up his list of potential squad members at the start of the current season's trials Ger Cavlan was included. The time, however, wasn't right to take up the invitation.

"I haven't retired from county football. Of course, it's always harder to give the necessary commitment the older you get. I opted out from the Tyrone set-up because I wanted to get my life back on track. But I am enjoying my club football and feeling fit. After the All Ireland is over I will take time to weigh up everything and then make a decision."

Cavlan is confident that the scoreline next Sunday will be in Tyrone's favour. It is a confidence that he knows is reflected throughout the squad. The way Tyrone demolished Dublin, he says, was the defining moment of the present campaign.

"More than any other team in the country Tyrone has the ability to soak up mental pressure. They are the toughest around. They keep proving they can learn from their mistakes, even when everybody has written them off.

"Look at Brian Dooher. In the Ulster championship it said his decision making was suspect. Critics questioned whether he could cope with the demands of going all the way to Croke Park. But Brian, like the rest of the lads has proved his ability."

In legal terms Ger Cavlan has paid his dues to society. The return team ticket is now there to be earned. Next Sunday will provide the perfect incentive.