Canavan stays focused on Kerry

PETER CANAVAN insisted yesterday that Tyrone are totally dismissive of growing speculation of a possible meeting with Armagh in next month’s Bank of Ireland football championship decider. He said they would take such talk ‘with a pinch of salt’.

"When did you ever see a Tyrone team taking Kerry for granted or lightly. We have been watching them play at All-Ireland stage, semi-final and final, this past five years," he commented.

"We know what they are about and what they are capable of. For us to get past Kerry would be a major achievement in itself."

More pertinently, the Tyrone captain agrees they could have done with a much tougher test in their quarter-final with Fermanagh, agreeing the one-sided nature of the game won't help them in the build-up to their first semi-final in seven years. And, while Kerry did get a tougher challenge from Roscommon in their quarter-final, he felt that game was 'effectively over' at half-time.

"It appeared Kerry realised that and in a sense took their foot off the pedal. Even with Roscommon's (three) goals I don't think anybody doubted for one minute that Kerry would win it.

"From our point of view, it's definitely not a good preparation for us, winning so convincingly. We could have done with a tougher match the type of match that would be beneficial to us going in to play an All-Ireland semi-final. We'd be a wee bit unhappy from that point of view, but again, that wasn't our fault."

Canavan said Tyrone were genuinely surprised by the comparative weakness of Fermanagh's challenge. From his perspective, he felt they should have defeated Down in the Ulster semi-final, but that they made considerable progress in the qualifier competition.

"As far as we were concerned, they had improved tremendously from the day we met them in the League semi-final. We expected more."

Aside from the circumstances of their win, Canavan is obviously pleased that the team has so far fulfilled their initial objective of getting to the latter stages of the All-Ireland Championship series.

"We're in the last four and that's where we wanted to be at the start of the year. And we feel we are in with a shout. But, having said that, we haven't really been tested by a quality team. And, when it comes to quality you can't get anybody better than Kerry."

Tyrone captured their first ever League title last season, when they beat Cavan very convincingly in the final in Clones.

However, expectations of a good run in the championship weren't realised and hopes of a better run through the qualifier series were dashed when they failed to Sligo in Croke Park. Nevertheless, he feels that the team benefited from the experience.

"There's a lot of young boys there and they needed more games at the highest level. Playing in the later stages of the National League in Croke Park can be of benefit and Micky Harte definitely took it seriously when he took over.

"Just like last year we were very nearly caught by Derry after winning the League this year. At the end of the day it doesn't guarantee you anything when it comes to the championship."

Agreeing with the general view that Sean Kavanagh has made a significant difference to the team this season, the Tyrone captain points out that he was only 20 a few weeks ago and that 'he's still very much learning'.

"But, he has worked hard at his game and he's improving with every outing. Definitely he has been a big help, but a number of other young players have come in and what they have been doing is pushing boys for places.

"If everybody keeps fit until the semi-final I'd say there will be three or four boys who will be genuinely disappointed at not playing. And that will be all down to the competition for starting places."

Equally, Canavan acknowledges the influence that young forward Eoin Mulligan has had on the team in general and on him personally. What it amounts to is that he no longer has to shoulder the main responsibility in attack.

It's a 'huge amount of pressure' off him, knowing that he is the one who 'has to do the business,' of knowing that there are other players who are every bit as good as he is 'if not better.'

"Eoin's finishing has been clinical this year. Creating space for him is every bit as good as (others) giving ball to myself. From that point of view he has been a big help to the forward line.

"He has been rattling up the scores and really doing the business."

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