Ulster SFC: Sean Cavanagh predicts return to packed defences

Tyrone's Sean Cavanagh and Down's Kevin McKernan with the Anglo-Celt Cup

Tyrone captain Sean Cavanagh will not be surprised to see a return to "packed defences" during the Championship despite the high-scoring nature of this year's Football League.

"Whenever teams are fearful of losing on a bigger day, they naturally will retreat a little bit more," he said.

"There will be more emphasis on defensive systems."

Cavanagh made the comments ahead of Tyrone's Ulster SFC opener against Down at Healy Park on Sunday.

"I just wouldn't say the championship games are going to be [scores like] 2-15 to 2-20."

The arrival of the controversial black card for cynical fouls heralded a more attacking approach by several teams during this season's League, with players seemingly reluctant to commit blatant fouls which could result in them having to leave the field - albeit to be replaced by a substitute.

The Tyrone star laughs when it is put to him that some wags have dubbed the black card, the 'Sean Cavanagh rule', after the law change was introduced in the wake of the debate that followed his hauling down of Monaghan's Conor McManus in last year's All-Ireland Quarter-Final.

GAA Director General Paraic Duffy says the Ulster Championship is the 'most open' of the four provincial football championships.

But Tyrone were among the teams who racked up some big scores during the Spring and Cavanagh, a player possessed by attacking instincts, admitted that he enjoyed the greater freedom.

But the Moy man has major doubts as to whether the scoring fest will continue.

"You know on the 18th [of May] when we play Down, there are going to be packed defences. Whenever Donegal played Derry, there are going to be packed defences.

"The black card is working to a certain extent but the real test will be in the heat of championship.

"Possibly in the League, teams were a little bit reluctant to show their hand too much and possibly to go that all-out to try and win a game.

"Referees were possibly trying not to use the black card where possible.

"I've no doubt in the white heat of championship, you are going to get referees that are going to make mistakes.

"You are also going to get players who will possibly use it [the black card] to their advantage in the last number of minutes in games. You have got to be realistic."

Despite missing out on a place in the Football League semi-finals, Tyrone will still go into Sunday's contest as strong favourites against a Down team that were unable to earn promotion from Division 2.

However, Cavanagh professes respect for a Down side that has plenty of attacking potential.

"The new black card rule will suit a team like Down because on any given day, they can attack with venom.

"We have seen them acquit themselves reasonably well in Division Two and we are under no illusions.

"This is the Ulster Championship. You are looking at ourselves, Down, Donegal, Derry, Cavan, Monaghan....teams like that.

"All of us are in a similar boat and we're all looking towards that Ulster Final in mid-July.

"But we can't get too far ahead of ourselves. We are in the preliminary round and we know how difficult it is to go on and be successful after playing in the preliminary round."