Tyrone still setting sights high, insists Ruairi Canavan

Allianz Football League Division One, round five: Tyrone v Mayo (Healy Park, Saturday, 5.15pm)

Ruairi Canavan was outstanding for the Tyrone U20s last year and is hoping to make a mark at senior level this year. Picture Margaret McLaughlin
Ruairi Canavan was outstanding for the Tyrone U20s in 2022 and stepped up to senior level last year. Picture Margaret McLaughlin

MANY may see this as a transitional season for Tyrone – but Ruairi Canavan emphatically rejected that suggestion ahead of the visit of League champions Mayo.

“No – look, there’s a lot of new players in but with Tyrone every year you set your stall out and you know where you want to be at the end of the year,” insisted the Errigal Ciaran forward.

“The past few years just haven’t been good enough but we’re looking forward to improving with every game and see how we go.”

Skipper and star of the 2022 All-Ireland winning U20 Tyrone team, the 20-year-old added another trophy to his collection last week. However, he laughed when it was put to him that he’d ‘got one over’ his famous father Peter by winning the Sigerson Cup, helping Ulster University to that triumph: “He’s a few medals ahead of me, I don’t think I’ll be bragging.”

The mindset is clear, though – sights always set on silverware.

For now, though, it’s more about mere survival in Division One for Tyrone, after successive defeats, by Derry and Galway, following the opening win over Roscommon.

Boss Brian Dooher is still set to be without his joint-manager Feargal Logan due to health issues, and Ruairi is sympathetic but also pragmatic about that: “Obviously you don’t like to hear that Feargal’s not well, but Feargal would just want us to get on with it. The next man has stepped up, you just have to keep going – there’s no other option, really.”

Tyrone's Ciarán Daly and Galway's Dylan McHugh
Tyrone's Ciarán Daly and Galway's Dylan McHugh in action during the Allianz Football Division one Round Three game between Tyrone and Galway at O'Neills Healy Park Omagh on 02-18-2024.

That same attitude applies on the pitch, where Tyrone have had to blood a few debutants in the absence of senior stars.

Young Canavan welcomes that, though, declaring: “It’s class, there’s a lot of new boys coming in, especially from the U20 teams of recent years. It’s good to have such a good new group of lads coming through. There are still the older boys setting the standards, so it’s up to us to get to their level.”

He replaced his older brother Darragh against Galway, after the former’s exertions in winning the Sigerson Final, but believes there’ll be more energy against Mayo:

“It’s been a lot of games over the past three or four weeks, couple of games a week. It is what you want to be doing, playing football, but it does end up taking a toll on the body. With a week’s rest, should be good to go for the weekend.”

Tyrone must ensure that the trend really is for home wins in this fixture, once renowned for away victories, having prevailed in Omagh in 2022 before being decisively beaten in Castlebar last season.

League title-holders Mayo are going well again in this campaign, despite their first, narrow defeat away to Kerry last weekend, following a big win over Galway and edging past Dublin. Tyrone lost to a Galway team missing Damien Comer and Shane Walsh – among others – so the visiting attacking options including Tommy Conroy, Aidan O’Shea, and Ryan Donoghue will fancy their chances.

With tricky trips to Kerry and Dublin to come either side of a home derby with Monaghan, who are also battling relegation, a much improved Tyrone display is required.