Tyrone have the talent to go far, says Red Hand starlet Ruairi Canavan

A touch of class. Ruairi Canavan sells a dummy against Watty Graham's Glen. Picture Margaret McLaughlin.
A touch of class. Ruairi Canavan sells a dummy against Watty Graham's Glen. Picture Margaret McLaughlin.

IF the players match their talent with hard work and commitment, Tyrone can go far, says emerging starlet Ruairi Canavan.

The first target will be survival in Division One and the Errigal Ciaran youngster, skipper of the county’s reigning All-Ireland U20 Championship-winning side, got his first taste of victory with the Red Hands at senior level when he was thrown into the senior fray for the win against Sam Maguire holders Kerry in Omagh a fortnight ago.

Canavan belied his youth with a couple of cool-headed frees that were vital in the 1-15 to 2-9 victory that lifted Tyrone out of the Division One drop zone. Victories in Sunday’s round six trip to Monaghan and the final outing against Armagh will be required to keep Tyrone clear of relegation.

“There’s enough talent there to go far and achieve plenty,” said Canavan.

“But, same as everything, if you don’t put the work in you’ll not get anything. I definitely think there is the talent and players there and it is up to us to put our heads down and see where we can go.”

Tyrone leapfrogged Monaghan on scoring-difference with the three-point win against the Kingdom. The obvious challenge for the Red Hands now is to back it up on Sunday but crossing swords with the Farneymen at Clones is always a serious challenge.

“We had been working hard in training but the results hadn't been coming our way,” said Canavan.

“To get over the line against Kerry was a massive one, but it won't mean much if we don't back it up and stay in Division One.

“The next two games are massive. You want to be playing football in Division One obviously. Hopefully we can harness it and back it up.”

With Canavan outstanding (he totalled 1-34 including 20 points from frees in the five-game campaign and was named Player of the Year) the Tyrone U20s won Ulster and All-Ireland titles last year. Paul Devlin’s side begin the defence of that title against Down on March 29 and level-headed Canavan is hoping for success on two fronts this season.

“The ambition would be to do well with the U20s first,” said the Ulster University student.

“If I get the chance to get a bit of game-time with the seniors; I’d like to make an impact this season, get as far as we can and get a bounce-back from last season.

“Even the training with the seniors, it’s really enjoyable. You learn something every night. It’s a big step up in physicality and stuff but it’s class playing with the boys you grew up looking up to and you learn plenty off them.”

He joined the senior panel around a month after last year’s U20 success, following his brother Darragh (four years’ older) into the Tyrone panel. Of course they follow in the sizeable footsteps of their father Peter and uncle Pascal. Ruairi doesn’t remember his dad playing, he wasn’t even born in 2003 when the man the fans called ‘God’ became his county’s first All-Ireland-winning captain.

Darragh is now established as a Tyrone senior player so perhaps it’s easier for his younger brother to find his feet without being compared to his famous father.

“It’s not too bad, pressure wise,” he said.

“It comes with it. You just have to take it – it is what it is and I don’t feel any real pressure. I know there would be ones looking out to see you going well and some would like to see you doing poorly.

“My dad wouldn’t come at you with advice or criticism, he would very much let you find your own feet.

“If you had something to ask or he felt something that needed to be put back on track, he would do that. But he doesn’t overly burden us or anything.”

Ruairi wasn’t around for Tyrone’s first Sam Maguire but he was there for their fourth two years ago and still rates that Tyrone-Kerry All-Ireland semi-final in 2021 as the best game he’s been to.

“I was in the Hogan Stand watching it with one of the mates,” he says.

“It got us on our feet. It was probably the best game I’ve ever been at – just the passion and all that was shown… It was class.

“I don’t know if I knew I was going to be there (playing for Tyrone at senior level) but I wanted to be. The atmosphere and the buzz of everything… Everybody in Tyrone I think grows up wanting to play for the senior team and to be there now is great and hopefully I’ll get the opportunity to play in big games later on this year.”

Last year’s U20 success was followed at club level when Errigal Ciaran ended a 10-year drought by capturing their first Tyrone senior championship since 2012.

“I mind 2012,” said Canavan with a smile.

“I was P5 in school and watching them and idolising them and for 10 years we had been trying to do it and be part of it and contribute to it was a dream.

“It’s hot and heavy in the Tyrone championship. Anybody can beat anybody on a given day and you are thrown straight to it but you have to deal with it and we are lucky the experienced boys on our squad will give you tips and helps you along the way.”

In Ulster, Errigal’s run was ended by eventual Ulster winners and All-Ireland finalists Watty Graham’s Glen but Canavan found fame with the audacious dummy and point that went viral on social media.

“Friends would send you a message saying: ‘Look at this’ but at the end of the day we were still gutted to lose the game,” he said.

“We didn’t get over the line we went into that game hoping we’d win and we were confident that we could but Glen were better on the day and a step ahead of us so it was still gutting.”

The immediate objective for Tyrone is beating Monaghan on Sunday and the Red Hands will meet the Farneymen again in the Ulster Championship quarter-final at Healy Park on April 16. The form of Derry has edged them into the favourites’ slot for the Anglo-Celt Cup and with Armagh also expected to challenge there is perhaps less talk about Tyrone than in previous years.

“Like it is with the club championship in Tyrone, the Ulster championship is just extremely competitive,” said Canavan.

“People probably aren't talking about us. Fair enough, the way Derry are going and Armagh are flying. Monaghan, Donegal are Division One teams… We just have to have belief in ourselves that we can go on and do it.”