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Tyrone legend Peter Canavan joins list of greats in our Hall of Fame

By Declan Bogue

It was September 28, 2003. The venue was Croke Park, Dublin.

Peter Canavan was up the steps of the Hogan Stand. Beside him was the GAA president, Sean Kelly. Tyrone had just beaten Armagh in an historic All-Ireland final, contested between two teams from the same province for the first time.

For Canavan, it represented an ultimate high in a Tyrone jersey in a journey that began in the late '80s.

"I can't think of a better position or a better place to be in right now in the world than where I am standing," he said in his victory speech. He finished with: "I think I've said enough, it's time to take Sam to Tyrone!"

Last night, Canavan was inducted into the Belfast Telegraph Hall of Fame at our annual sports awards, emulating the likes of Dame Mary Peters, Willie John McBride, George Best, Pat Jennings and AP McCoy.

There in the company of wife Finola, he was presented with his award by Mickey Harte, his Errigal Ciaran clubmate, one of his first coaches when he first kicked a ball, and the man who appointed him captain at the beginning of 2003 when he managed Tyrone to All-Ireland glory.

And yet all this might never have happened for the man from the townland of Greenhill.

As a child, he lived in Glencull territory, which had split from the Ballygawley club over a dispute. Sean Canavan raised a number of capable footballers and Peter and older brother Pascal were the pick of them.

While the Tyrone county board would not affiliate the Glencull club, Canavan played with them in tournaments and challenge matches, showing his remarkable talents even though he did not have an 'official' under-age career. That was eventually sorted out with the amalgamation of Glencull and Ballygawley to create the Errigal Ciaran club.

It did not stop Canavan captaining his county to two All-Ireland Under-21 titles in the early '90s and in 1995 he single-handedly almost dragged Tyrone to an All-Ireland title in a heartbreaking defeat to Dublin.

Though managers and players came and went, Canavan kept the faith, winning Tyrone and Ulster Club Championships with Errigal, while Harte raised a generation of high achievers, winning the ultimate at both minor and Under-21 level to come onstream for the county seniors.

In late 2002, Harte was appointed the new Red Hands manager and after making Canavan captain, the magic happened.

Canavan's incredible grace as a player was his defining quality. He was blessed with a turn of pace, extreme awareness of what was unfolding around him even when defenders were intent on doing damage, and he was utterly unselfish.

As a place-kicker he was nerveless and could handle himself on the pitch, most memorably in his tussle with the Australian Rules player Jason Akermanis, when they faced off with Canavan playing for Ireland in the International Rules series.

His genius was far from confined to his county colours however, a five-minute clip of his scores for Errigal gathering more than 36,000 views on YouTube, and he produced week-in, week-out in the tough environment of Tyrone and Ulster club football, away from the bright lights as they established themselves as the only club from that county to win an Ulster title, in 1993 and again in 2002.

Another All-Ireland arrived in 2005 with Canavan aged 35. He retired after that and managed his club to two Tyrone league titles.

He took charge of Fermanagh for another couple of seasons and he was part of a Tyrone Under-21 management team that won the 2015 All-Ireland title.

In Cavan, he brought a Championship to Cavan Gaels in 2014.

As a star columnist with the Belfast Telegraph and Irish Independent, along with his expert punditry with Today FM and Sky TV, Canavan has pushed the boundaries of knowledge and expertise in explaining the finer points of Gaelic football.

The family tradition is carrying on. His son Darragh won an U17 All-Ireland with Tyrone last year and his daughter Aine played for the Red Hands in last year's All-Ireland Intermediate final defeat.

Aine recently got engaged to Tyrone senior footballer and vice-captain Peter Harte.

Younger children Ruairi and Claire have also shown promise.

Belfast Telegraph

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