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Tyrone throwing legend Canavan's son Darragh into the spotlight

 

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On rise: Darragh Canavan gets to grips with senior county action for Tyrone against Derry in the McKenna Cup opener

On rise: Darragh Canavan gets to grips with senior county action for Tyrone against Derry in the McKenna Cup opener

On rise: Darragh Canavan gets to grips with senior county action for Tyrone against Derry in the McKenna Cup opener

With a number of games being played pre-Christmas, the slightly halting feel of the 2019 Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup finally gets a bit of a push this weekend with six fixtures taking place.

As is the way with this tournament, results are rarely important and teams will be using it as a means to discover who can make the step up to senior football for the National Leagues and, later, the Ulster Championship.

The most intriguing inclusion this weekend has to be Darragh Canavan in the Tyrone side to face UUJ, named at 13 in his legendary father Peter's occasional jersey.

Placing too much expectation on the offspring of bonafide genius players can be risky, but it is by no means an obstacle.

In the lead-in to the All-Ireland final last year, Tommy and Brian McGuigan sat down and talked about the advantages of being a son of the legendary Frank. Their names were being whispered around the county and their paths were smoothed as they went through their under-age years, they reasoned.

The case of Darragh Canavan should be slightly different, however. There can be no doubt that he has been sheltered from the rigours of senior football. Coming on in the Club Championship last September against Coalisland was his first taste of senior football. He made an appearance or two in the remaining league games including the final, but his total starts can be counted on one hand.

Those expecting a fully-formed county footballer should be patient and recognise that his father's career began in the winter of 1989 in a league game against Mayo in Castlebar and it wasn't until his fourth year as a starter that the Red Hands won an Ulster Championship game.

From one man's career starting to another's ending. It appears that Seamus Quigley will play no further role with Fermanagh, after manager Rory Gallagher confirmed that he has not joined the panel for 2019.

That means Malachy O'Rourke, John O'Neill, Peter Canavan, Pete McGrath and now Gallagher have all had the undoubtedly talented Roslea man in their squads, but for some reason or another have not retained him.

Given he scored 6-61 across 15 appearances last season, he will not be easily replaced. The most natural replacement is his brother Sean, who had his game time restricted last year with the inclusion of Seamus.

With Tomás Corrigan having gone travelling, it represents a dip in the depth of attacking talent available to Gallagher, especially with veteran Eamonn Maguire having retired at the end of last season.

Derry are sending a very patched-up squad to Brewster Park for their meeting, but they are playing a patient game and manager Damian McErlain has warned against the dangers of picking up any injuries ahead of a crucial league campaign. The Oak Leafs are in Division Four for the first time in decades.

The visit of Armagh to Antrim tomorrow will be interesting as Jamie Clarke may well be back in an orange jersey.

With Stefan Campbell also back, and Rian O'Neill committing to the county senior footballers, manager Kieran McGeeney has assembled possibly the strongest squad at his disposal in his fifth season in charge.

Another inclusion is Ross McQuillan of Cullyhanna. He and O'Neill took part in some Australian Rules Football trials last month that were organised by former Down and Collingwood footballer Martin Clarke. McQuillan is reported to have posted impressive stats, including a 20-metre run that was completed in 2.77 seconds.

Antrim boss Lenny Harbinson is also adopting a similar approach to blooding youngsters throughout January.

Quite a number of top-level players at the latter end of their careers have been given some time off to recharge their batteries. Donegal and Monaghan captains Michael Murphy and Conor McManus are not lining out for their respective counties in the McKenna Cup, while there is no pressure on Tyrone's double All-Star Colm Cavanagh to appear too early in the season.

Belfast Telegraph