Tyrone manager Mickey Harte is reluctant to place too much emphasis on his team’s confrontation with Peter Canavan’s Fermanagh in tonight’s final Section A match in the Power NI Dr McKenna Cup.
The tantalising prospect of two unbeaten sides now vying for a semi-final place against the intriguing backdrop of a managerial battle of wits between master and pupil thrusts the contest onto something approaching a Championship platform.
Lob in an anticipated 7,000 crowd and the not inconsiderable carrot of at least one further game in the competition for the winners just when team-building is a priority in each county and it can be clearly seen just why this will be a neighbourly meeting in name only.
Harte has reason to feel satisfied with the manner in which his new recruits have acquitted themselves to date, but he recognises that Canavan’s side, buoyed by those victories over Antrim and Queen’s, will aim to extend their impressive early-season surge.
“It does not surprise me in the least that Peter has instilled lots of enthusiasm into the Fermanagh squad,” said Harte.
“His team has started well, they are gaining in confidence and it should be quite a battle tomorrow night. It is becoming clear that the team is acquiring the qualities that Peter himself has in terms of dedication, commitment and single-mindedness and this bodes well for them.
“They have two good wins under their belts and this is the best encouragement they could have going into tomorrow night’s match.”
Together Harte and Canavan helped to write a glorious chapter in Tyrone’s GAA history as manager and captain respectively as the Sam Maguire Cup was captured for the first time in 2003, with neighbours Armagh their victims in the decider.
Two years later Harte was still at the helm and Canavan remained a key component in the ranks when football’s greatest prize was secured once more at Kerry’s expense — the latter’s exquisite goal is a memorable cameo from that game — before Harte went on to make it a third triumph as manager in 2008.
The playing bond between himself and Canavan had initially been sealed in 1993 when Errigal Ciaran won the Tyrone and Ulster club championship titles with
Canavan as captain and Harte a member of the substitutes’ panel.
Harte of course had given Errigal Ciaran tremendous service as a player prior to embarking on his now legendary career as a manager and he has always had a special regard for the iconic Canavan.
“We tend to use the word genius rather too liberally in sport, but in the case of Peter Canavan it is very applicable,” insists Tyrone chief Harte.
“He was a truly great player, someone who was imbued with exceptional skills, scoring expertise and an element of true grit that made him the complete package.”
Harte was the master and Canavan the pupil at St Ciaran’s College, Ballygawley in the 80’s — tomorrow night the roles will be similar if in a different context.
Harte has already made it clear that the acquisition of the McKenna Cup could provide the dynamic that might take his side to further progress in the National League.
“But then this is an aim which I am sure Peter Canavan will have,” said Harte.
“Tyrone have won two matches that we could just as easily have lost so we will need to be on top of our game tomorrow if we are to have a chance of getting a semi-final place.”
Back in 2003, Tyrone lost just one game in winning both the All Ireland and National League crowns. That was to a good Monaghan side in the McKenna Cup final.
If the Red Hands were to reach the same level of achievement this year, Harte presumably would have no objections to the McKenna Cup again finding a home outside the O’Neill county.