GAA

Tyrone’s Michael McKernan lauds ‘unreal’ Darragh Canavan

Tyrone's Michael McKernan had another battle with Armagh on Saturday evening in Omagh. Pic Philip Walsh
Tyrone's Michael McKernan had another battle with Armagh on Saturday evening in Omagh. Pic Philip Walsh Michael McKernan has praised the young players coming through in the Tyrone panel

MICHAEL McKernan has described Darragh Canavan’s ability as “unreal” and can’t believe some of the things he does in training and in games.

Canavan hit a game-winning 0-8 in last Sunday’s opening Division One win over Roscommon and will be a player for his Errigal Ciaran club-mate and Derry manager Mickey Harte to keep tabs on as both the Red Hands and Derry clash at Celtic Park on Sunday.

“Darragh’s unreal,” McKernan said.

“You just have to look at how he played (against Roscommon). He’s always an option to kick to even though he’s not the biggest, I don’t know how he does half the stuff he does.”

Darragh’s younger brother Ruairi came on in the 55th minute last weekend while Darren McCurry is available after missing the Roscommon game due to suspension.

Several experienced players have retired in the close season and with Conor Meyler, Kieran McGeary, Cathal McShane, Frank Burns and Mattie Donnelly carrying injuries, opportunities abound for the younger members of the squad.

Darragh Canavan
Tyrone's Darragh Canavan was brilliant against Roscommon Picture: Philip Walsh

Ronan McNamee, Richie Donnelly and Niall Sludden bowed out after the 2023 season concluded.

McKernan said: “It’s everyone’s choice, things in their personal lives and they maybe don’t have the time. It’s an honour for any of us to play for Tyrone but there comes a time you can’t do it anymore. So fair play to those boys – they gave serious effort and commitment and it’s up to the new boys now.

“There’s a lot of boys to come back - Kieran, Frank, Meyler, McShane, Mattie - but the younger boys have stepped up, and that can only be good for us as it’s more competition.”

Aidan Clarke at corner-back had a fine NFL debut last weekend as did Tarlach Quinn, Niall Devlin, Ben Cullen, Seanie O’Donnell and Ciaran Daly.

But Tyrone still leaned heavily on the likes of McKernan, Brian Kennedy, Canavan and McKernan himself to navigate a potentially tricky last quarter against Roscommon.

‘Keeper Niall Morgan was hugely influential in Tyrone’s opening day win – their first since beating Meath in 2020, just before the global pandemic.

Morgan’s ability to move out the field helped nullify Roscommon’s numerical advantage after Conn Kilpatrick was sent off on 40 minutes, while you won’t see a better high catch under pressure all season than the Edendork man’s 68th minute fetch as the visitors chased a goal.

“That’s Niall for you,” McKernan smiled.

“I think he won a ball out on the sideline as well. We have the quality of Niall going forward. He’s like an extra attacker for us and he gives us that plus-one.

“We see it for Edendork out field and we know what he’s capable of so we’re happy enough for him to help out and play a few passes.”

Sunday will be a considerable step up in class for the Red Hands with Derry touted as All-Ireland contenders again having won back-to-back Ulster titles and narrowly losing last season’s All-Ireland semi-final to Kerry.

“I think every game is extremely important with the quality that’s in Division One,” McKernan said.

“You only have to look at Monaghan beating Dublin - so we know the challenge against Derry.”

Asked if Mickey Harte managing against his own county will be in the Tyrone players’ minds on Sunday, McKernan replied: “It’s another game, so no.”