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Last Updated: Monday, 26 September 2005, 21:12 GMT 22:12 UK
Canavan's remarkable career
By John Haughey

ALL-IRELAND FOOTBALL FINAL
Peter Canavan celebrating his goal against Kerry
Peter Canavan's retirement brings to an end a remarkable career in his beloved Red Hand jersey.

In this correspondent's humble opinion, Canavan has to be regarded as the greatest gaelic footballer since Jack O'Shea bestrode the national stage.

To put it in context, that's a period that extends beyond 20 years.

For most of his career, it seemed as though fate was going to deny him the All-Ireland medal that his wonderful talents deserved.

However, the 2003 victory over Armagh changed all that and two years later, after tragedy had hit the Red Hand squad, he is signing off with another All-Ireland senior success.

Canavan's talents were obvious to Tyrone Gaels from an early stage but he first made an impact on the national stage when he starred in Tyrone's All-Ireland Under-21 triumph in 1991.

Three years later, he was named BBC Northern Ireland's Player of the Ulster Championship and also picked up his first All Star.

A year later, Canavan's individual brilliance was the main reason why Tyrone reached the All-Ireland Senior decider against Dublin where the Red Hand County suffered a heartbreaking and controversial defeat.

In 1996, Tyrone again had high hopes of finally claiming the county's first All Ireland title but the side managed by Art McRory and Eugene McKenna were outmuscled by Meath in the semi-final at Croke Park.

Canavan went into the 2003 decider against Armagh virtually on one leg

In that defeat, Canavan sustained a serious ankle injury which appeared to linger for over a year.

The arrival of Danny Ball heralded high hopes in Tyrone but instead the county went into the doldrums for four years and it took the return of Art McRory and Eugene McKenna before Tyrone lifted Ulster honours again in 2001 - a few months after the Red Hands had won the National League title.

But All-Ireland success once again was to elude Tyrone with Derry avenging an earlier Ulster Championship defeat in the quarter-finals - in a match which saw Canavan getting a red card.

Another National League title saw Tyrone again going into the 2002 Championship among the favourites but Armagh knocked them out of the Ulster Championship and they were then ambushed by Sligo in the qualifiers.

After a protracted period of uncertainty over whether Art McRory and Eugene McKenna would remain on, Mickey Harte was entrusted with the management reins in November 2002 with Tyrone officials impressed by his All-Ireland triumphs in the underage grades.

Ten months later, Harte was matching Joe Kernan's feat in guiding his county to an historic Sam Maguire triumph at his first attempt at senior intercounty level.

After sustaining a bad ankle injury in the semi-final mauling of Kerry, Canavan went into the 2003 decider against Armagh virtually on one leg but his five points were crucial in Tyrone's three-point success.

Little over five months later, Canavan and his county colleagues were left devastated by the sudden and tragic death of their new team captain Cormac McAnallen.

Tyrone tried to battle on during the remainder of the summer of 2004 but with their morale inevitably sapped, Mayo proved too good in the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

At that stage, we wondered whether we'd seen the last of Peter Canavan in a Tyrone jersey.

Only players of genius could produce the kind of deft finish which was Canavan's crucial goal in Sunday's decider

And when he pulled out of the Tyrone squad before the start of this year's National League, it seemed confirmation that his days on the Croke Park stage were over.

But come early May, Canavan returned to lift Red Hand morale and his introduction to steady nerves in a scrappy clash against Down told everyone that he still had an important role to play for Harte's side.

During the remainder of the summer, Canavan did his own jinking version of Lanigan's Ball by stepping in and out of the starting line-up at regular intervals.

With O'Neill, McGuigan, Mulligan and McGuigan all performing heroics, no longer did Tyrone have an over-reliance on the Errigal Ciaran genius but what a man he was to have in reserve.

His role as impact sub didn't always go to plan - notably in the Ulster Final replay against Armagh when he was red-carded after getting involved in a melee seconds after coming on.

But come the final instalment of the memorable trilogy against the Orchard County, the 34-year-old performed the closing act by coolly slamming over the last-kick free to put Tyrone into the decider.

Immediately after that game, Mickey Harte said:"Thank God for Peter Canavan" and it seemed somehow inevitable that he would start in the decider against Kerry.

Yet it could never be regarded as a gamble. Only players of genius could produce the kind of deft finish which was Canavan's crucial goal in Sunday's decider.

And who was the man who steadied Tyrone with an incredible score in riposte after Tomas O Se had hammered in Kerry's second half goal?

Great scarcely sums up Peter Canavan's contribution to gaelic football.




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