November 08, 1991
Canny Marksman Canavan
A class apart
The talk is all football in Paudge Quinn's lounge bar between Ballygawley and Dungannon.
It's a grey November night and a bunch of Tyrone footballers are tucking into a tasty assortment of steak and chicken by way of satisfying a hefty appetite worked up under floodlights a few miles down the road at Augher.
Another gruelling training session over and another step closer to absolute success or total failure - who knows?
There's no middle ground in Tyrone. What may qualify as moderate success elsewhere is invariably dismissed as downright and abject failure by that most discerning of football fan -the Tyrone man.
They won Division Two of the National Football League last season but defeat in the Ulster Championship is the only lasting memory.
They're a cruel lot, Tyrone followers, but they're a loyal lot. And their hunger for success is not lost on the fresh faced squad, some approaching the end of their careers, others with years of dash and endeavour ahead of them.
The older ones have been through the drudgery of early season training in the driving rain, the howling wind, the biting cold many times before. And it doesn't get any easier.
But the excitement is as intense as ever. Tyrone have never managed to join that elite band of greats who can afford the luxury of ignoring the league to concentrate on the championship. The players, relaxing in a corner of the lounge, share a laugh, and the conversation occasionally strays away from football but always returns .
In a few days they travel south to take on Dublin in a National League tie and the determination is evident. These men mean business and they feel they can make quite an impression this season.
"Eat up lads," says proprietor Paudge Quinn as he lays another platter of chips on the table. "You need some good packing if you intend to play football."
And Paudge should know. He's the only Tyrone player ever to have scored a goal in an All-lreland final.
That was back in 1986 when Tyrone won the hearts of a nation by taking the mighty Kerry to the cleaners only to see the dream shattered by a remarkable Kingdom comeback.
Quinn stunned the great men of Munster with a great goal early in the second half of that epic final to put his side streets ahead.
He still holds and treasures his record. but would dearly love to have an All-lreland medal instead.
But just now he's happy to be among the Tyrone players again as they prepare for another challenging season - albeit in a different role.
Among these players is his Errigal Ciaran clubmate Peter Canavan, the 20-year-old student and veteran of three National league campaigns with whom he still teams up in the Tyrone first division.
Canavan is one of a crop of exciting new prospects to join the senior scene, and with him in the squad are eight of his team-mates from this year's All Ireland winning Under 21 side.
But the exceptional ability of the diminutive blond haired corner forward sets him apart as a player of rare talent.
He has already played in two All-lreland Under-21 finals, captaining the team to victory last season over Kerry, following the disappointment of the previous year when the same two sides met in the decider.
And he'll be in action again for the Under-21s this season, along with at least a dozen of the All-Ireland winning squad, determined to retain the title which has injected so much fresh hope and optimism into the county.
Canavan is a key figure in Tyrone's plans to make a major impact in the new-look National Football League and to follow up with an Ulster Championship success.
His breathtaking speed, remarkable and uncanny instinct for scoring have already made him one of the most feared attackers in the country and the Under 21 victory has given him the taste of success. "I'm very optimistic. We have so many good young players coming in from the Under-21 side that the outlook has to be bright" said Canavan.
"And along with the older players like Damien O'Hagan, Plunkett Donaghy and Kevin McCabe we should be able to find the right blend. I think their experience will be invaluable to the younger members, especially those who are coming into the senior squad for the first time. It's good to see so many of the Under-21 players coming through now, for they have the skill, the talent and the nerve to make it, and they proved that against Mayo."
And Canavan, a P.E. student at St. Mary's Teacher Training College, believes Down's All-lreland victory will instill greater ambition and confidence into Ulster teams.
"For too long the Ulster counties have been looked upon as also-rans, to such an extent that they believed themselves that they were second rate. In most cases the Ulster Championship was the ultimate goal, with the result that expectations were low when it came to playing in Croke Park and performances were therefore generally poor.
"But Down's achievement has shown that Ulster football is as good as, if not better than anywhere else in Ireland. And the fact that they won the All-lreland so convincingly must come as a big boost, and great encouragement, to others in Ulster.
"Now the northern counties will go out with the intention of not only winning the Ulster title but going on to win the All-lreland. And Tyrone will be no exception."
Canavan was a 15-year old schoolboy when Tyrone reached their one and only All-lreland final in 1986. Two years later he was in the Tyrone minor team which lost to Kerry in an All-lreland semi-final at Croke Park.
But his brilliance could so easily have been lost to Tyrone football but for a stroke of innovation which lifted a ban on the rising star.
Canavan was banned from playing for Tyrone because of a split in his home town club. Ballygawley. He found himself aligned to a splinter group which fought an unsuccessful seven year battle to gain affiliation to the G.A.A. with the result that none of its members were entitled to represent the county.
But a ruling which allowed footballers to play hurling with another club if their own club did not have a hurling team - proved to be the crucial loophole.
Peter joined Killyclogher Hurling Club, even though he does not play the game, and immediately gained G.A.A. recognition. His first appearance for the Tyrone minor side just days later underlined the tragedy which could have been. He soon became an automatic choice for the senior side, and played a key role in bringing the Railway Cup back to Ulster this season.
Happily, the dispute which divided the Ballygawley club has been settled, and unity and harmony are the buzz words nowadays, with compromise on both sides resulting in the club being renamed Errigal Ciaran.
The settlement has been important in improving Canavan's game, for amazingly he had never played club football until last season. Now regular senior service with Errigal Ciaran is giving him vital competitive action and keeping him sharp and alert.
And he is determined to convert those qualities into achievement. The bitter disappointment of last year's shock first round Ulster Championship defeat by Derry has not yet dissipated, and it is likely to linger until the sides meet again in a repeat championship tie next May.
"We were very unlucky against Derry. The game could have swung either way, but Derry got the break that mattered, and went through to the next round.
"Tyrone played very much below par in that game, but this season we will have no problem motivating ourselves with the memory of that defeat still in our minds. We're all looking forward to it and we will be approaching the championship in a very positive frame of mind."
One man who is certain Peter Canavan will approach that vital game in a suitable frame of mind is the former Armagh and Derry team manager Father Sean Hegarty.
The Ballygawley curate is now manager of the Errigal Ciaran side, for whom Canavan performs with the same passion and commitment as he shows in the red and white of Tyrone.
"He's a tremendous asset to his club and county," said an admiring Fr. Hegarty. "I have worked with a lot of players over the years, and to my mind he is one of the finest score-getters I have ever seen. Every time he gets the ball he thinks score, but he is incredibly quick to find another option if he is closed down. And his personal commitment and determination are 100 per cent.
"Despite this great ability and despite having stardom thrust upon him at a very young age, he has his feet firmly on the ground. He has a very mature outlook on his football and on his life."
And the former Armagh county player makes no secret of the fact that Peter Canavan would have been a prize possession had he been an Armagh man or a Derry man during Fr. Hegarty's managerial days in the respective counties.
"What an asset he would be to any team. To me Pete Canavan is someone to be proud of, and hopefully we will be much prouder of him in this parish in the near future."
Taken from Hogan Stand magazine
15th November 1991
Most Read Stories