GAA Football

God, Peter the Great or just young Canavan – whatever you refer to him as, the Tyrone legend is one of the very best to have ever played Gaelic football

2003 All-Ireland winning captain Peter Canavan is carried across the Croke Park pitch by Tyrone supporters
Padraig Kelly

PETER Canavan turns 50 today and to mark the occasion, The Irish News are looking back at five of his top moments in the game.

God, Peter the Great or just young Canavan – whatever you refer to him as, the Tyrone legend is undoubtedly one of the very best to have ever played Gaelic football.

The Errigal Ciarán man took the country by storm when he burst onto scene midway through the ‘90s, and his career ended on the ultimate high having helped Tyrone to their second All-Ireland title in 2005.

The individual awards flowed freely too and no Ulster player has won more Allstars with his six trophies keeping him one ahead of former Red Hand team-mate Sean Cavanagh.

Canavan did the business for his club too as he helped Errigal to six Tyrone titles as well as Ulster triumphs in 1993 and 2002.

It was in those hard-hitting Tyrone Club Championship games where Canavan’s legend was sculpted before being polished on the national stage.

Despite being double-marked more often than not, Canavan’s ability to turn on a sixpence still left opposition defences flummoxed as he created a highlight reel of incredible scores.

He also earned respect on those mud-covered pitches too as he showed that despite his small stature, he simply could not be bullied.

That bravery was evident throughout his career, no more so than in the intimidating International Rules tests against Australia. His on-field battles with AFL star Jason Akermanis in 2000 were the biggest talking point of that particular series.

No matter the game, if Canavan was playing you could guarantee that there would be fireworks...

 

1 – THE FIRST TYRONE MAN TO LIFT THE SAM MAGUIRE

THERE is a list in the GAA that features nothing but brilliance, but it is one that no player ever wants to be on – ‘the best players never to win an All-Ireland.’

Roscommon great Dermot Earley Snr is a name that always pops up, Mayo’s Ciaran McDonald another. For so long, it looked like Peter Canavan would be joining them.

When Derry and Tyrone met in the 2003 Ulster Championship quarter-final, the Errigal man was a few weeks past his 32nd birthday, but he never gave up hope.

The side had some bumps and bruises along the way in Ulster that season, needing replays to get past the Oak Leaf county and Down in the provincial decider.

Canavan hit four points as Fermanagh were destroyed in the All-Ireland quarter-final, but it was the semi-final against Kerry where this Tyrone team would really start to earn their reputation as they hit the Kingdom with a whirlwind of intensity, boxing the green and gold in at every opportunity.

Pat Spillane called it “puke football” – something he later said was a mistake – but at the end of the day Mickey Harte’s side had eased to a seven-point victory.

That set up an All-Ireland final against rivals and Sam Maguire holders Armagh.

Canavan had almost single-handedly downed Dublin in his sole final appearance before that in 1995, but this time his influence would be more tactical.

An ankle injury curtailed his involvement, but Harte saw it as an opportunity, starting the player, taking him off and then bringing him back in to give the side a mental boost as they won out 0-12 to 0-9.

And as a result, Canavan became the first Tyrone man to ever lift the Sam Maguire as the Red Hand team captain. He would lead the county back to the pinnacle of the game two years later in the perfect end to his county career.

 

2 – A FIRST COUNTY MEDAL WITH ERRIGAL CIARÁN

PETER Canavan’s early club journey was a messy one and he actually had to register as a Killyclogher hurler to play for the Tyrone minors.

A dispute in the Ballygawley parish between St Ciaran’s, Ballygawley and Errigal Ciarán Naomh Malachai, Canavan’s club, meant that the latter could not gain affiliation. This meant that Canavan was not eligible to play for the Red Hands - that was until he got around the issue by joining the hurling fraternity.

By 1990 the issue in the area had been resolved and the teams formed under the Errigal Ciarán banner we all know today. Three years later, Canavan would inspire them to the O’Neill Cup.

His first Tyrone final in 1993 saw Errigal attempt to get the better of a Moortown side that had beaten Dromore in the ’92 decider.

Errigal had defeated Trillick, Ardboe and Omagh en-route to the final, so confidence was high in the camp for the game at Edendork.

Manager Danny Ball also had the experience of a certain Mickey Harte to call on, although the then 38-year-old would not feature in the final.

The future Red Hand boss would have had a great view of the dramatic action on the field though as Errigal claimed a 0-11 to 0-10 win.

Chris Lawn did as well as he could on Canavan, but the wily forward still escaped for two magnificent scores to help his team over the line.

Like he would do 20 years later on the county stage, Canavan had captained his side to the big prize against the holders.

 

3 – TYERONE’S 1991 ALL-IRELAND U21 TRIUMPH

BY 1991, Peter Canavan had already experienced All-Ireland encounters at various levels, but the big prizes were still escaping him and his Tyrone teammates.

In 1998, the Red Hand minors had claimed the Ulster title with Canavan and Adrian Cush both grabbing 1-3 in a 2-7 to 0-3 win over Cavan.

That set up an All-Ireland semi-final with Kerry and despite another brilliant showing, Canavan was left heartbroken as he missed a 35-yard free in the final seconds to force a replay.

He would be back the following year with the U21s. They won Ulster with a narrow victory over Down at Casement Park in part one of a double-header that saw Armagh claim the Dr McKenna Cup at Tyrone’s expense later in the day.

Having missed the last-second free against Kerry the year before, Canavan had a reverse in fortunes as his last-second penalty dismissed the Mourne county.

That set up an All-Ireland semi-final with Meath and despite being five points down in the second half and being totally outplayed, another Canavan penalty swung the tie back their way and they won 2-10 to 1-9.

However there would be more Kerry heartbreak to come, this time in the final in Mullingar. Canavan produced another wonderful display and scored 2-2, but he was outshone by a 4-1 tally from Kerry’s Billy O’Sullivan.

The following year there would be no stopping Tyrone though. Canavan stole the show in the Ulster semi-final against Donegal as he kicked five unanswered points to win it, and he was on the goal trail once again as they defeated Down in the final.

A 2-3 contribution from the forward helped in an All-Ireland semi-final rout of Leitrim and once again, Kerry stood between them and glory.

There would be no repeat of the hammering from 12 months previous though and, indeed, it would be the Ulster side handing out the skelping as they delivered a 20-point trouncing in Newbridge.

Unsurprisingly, Canavan was to the fore as he scored 2-5 to secure Tyrone’s first national title. As captain, he would be the man that would first lift the trophy as well.

 

4 – ERRIGAL CIÁRAN RULE ULSTER

FOR a man who has won nearly everything there is to win in the game, Errigal Ciarán’s 1993 Ulster Club triumph is up there with Peter Canavan’s greatest days. The fact that they are the only Tyrone club to have lifted the Seamus McFerran Cup, having done so on two occasions, only adds to the honour.

In 1993 the side were riding the crest of a wave having picked up their first Tyrone medals following the club’s reformation in 1990.

Canavan was combining a corner-forward role for Brian McEniff’s Ulster in the Railway Cup alongside the club’s preparations for their first-ever provincial game with Derry champions Lavey providing the opposition.

It didn’t seem to do him too much harm as they dethroned the Ulster champions in Omagh in the quarter-final. They needed two games to get past Donegal’s Kilcar in the semi-final. They were held to five points in the replay, but Peter Canavan’s 0-4 tally was more than Kilcar could muster between them as they only scored 0-3.

Errigal’s scoring touch returned in the final though and with Canavan contributing a healthy 1-4, they defeated Down side RGU Downpatrick 3-7 to 1-8 to become the first Tyrone team to win the Ulster title.

In 2002 they embarked on another thrilling campaign to win provincial title number two.

Things did not look good in the quarter-final as Canavan limped off early on against kingpins Crossmaglen (he came on for a late cameo, not for the last time in his career), but the Tyrone side fought back for a draw with Peter Loughran starring in the middle.

Canavan was back to his best in the replay in Crossmaglen but, again, they could not be separated, even after extra-time.

In game three, just days after former teammate Mickey Harte was appointed Tyrone manager, Canavan was the star as he posted 1-5 in a 1-13 to 1-10 win to finally end the saga.

Their ‘reward’ was a semi-final against All-Ireland champions Ballinderry, but they held the Derry side to just four points whilst hitting 0-10 themselves.

The bad weather ensured that the final against Enniskillen Gaels was a low-scoring affair, but Errigal were crowned kings of Ulster once more following a 0-8 to 1-3 win.

 

5 – FOOTBALLER OF THE YEAR AND ALLSTAR RECORD

THE 1995 season may have ended in heartbreak for Peter Canavan, but there was some solace as he was named Footballer of the Year while he also picked up the second of his six Allstars.

Canavan was in sublime form that year and he top-scored with 1-38 in five games. He managed 1-7 against Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final and famously hit 11 of Tyrone’s 12 points in their final loss to Dublin.

Canavan was named at full-forward in that year’s All-Star team and was flanked by Meath’s Tommy Dowd and Dublin’s Charlie Redmond, who had notoriously stayed on the field for a few minutes in the final despite being red-carded.

That was Canavan’s second Allstar award. In 1994 Tyrone lost to Down in the Ulster final but 1-17 in three games earned the diminutive attacker a spot in the half-forward line.

Another Ulster title in ’96 secured a third award in-a-row, again at full-forward, with Canavan’s fourth award not arriving until 2002.

Allstar number five coincided with Tyrone’s All-Ireland success in 2003 and he would pick up his sixth and final award in 2005 following the Red Hand’s second Sam Maguire triumph.

It means that he has won more Allstars than any other Ulster player with former team-mate Sean Cavanagh his closest challenger with five.

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