Tyrone football legend Peter Canavan has dismissed suggestions that the curtain will fall on the Mickey Harte era if Tyrone suffer a fourth consecutive Ulster championship defeat to Donegal on Sunday.
Tyrone last won the Anglo-Celt Cup in 2010 and it is now eight-years since the Red Hand county claimed the championship scalp of neighbours Donegal.
A period of transition was ushered in by the retirements of Conor Gormley, Stephen O’Neill and Martin Penrose during the off-season and talk of Harte’s red juggernaut grinding to a standstill was further fuelled by the county’s relegation to Division 2 of the league this spring.
Will defeat on Sunday signal the end of the greatest era in Tyrone football history? “I know what you’re trying to say, but there has been eras ending this past two or three years,” Canavan remarked.
“Stephen O’Neill retiring, Conor Gormley, the likes of Philip Jordan – it’s inevitable that those players were going to leave.
“It was inevitable Tyrone were going to have to face a few difficult years. Tyrone are going into this game in a position they haven’t been in too often, going into a first round of the championship being written off.
“Donegal are hot favourites. They gave Tyrone a mauling in the league, completely over-powered them. So Tyrone know what to expect.
“All the expectation is on Donegal. So Tyrone could be a tough nut to crack.”
And while Canavan accepts Mickey Harte’s current crop are a “bit away yet” from challenging for September silverware, he believes they are still capable of toppling one of the championship front-runners.
“They’ll have to make serious progress as the summer progresses [if they’re to win the All-Ireland].
“They still have some exceptional footballers, who, if they get playing together as a team, as a unit, can bond.
“They’re capable of taking a big team out of it.”
Morale has been lifted thanks to the U21’s All-Ireland win earlier this month, but Canavan called for patience in allowing the key figures from Feargal Logan’s team develop into senior players. “Go back to why the Tyrone team was successful in 2003, ‘05, ‘08 – the majority of players on those teams had won either All-Ireland minor or U21 medals, came up together.
“Very few counties can make that transition without underage success. Kerry appear to be the only one.
“I think it’s inevitable that a number of those fellas are going to be brought through. That’s not to say that Tyrone are going to be successful in a year or two. I recall back to the first two years we won the All-Ireland U21, in 1991 and 1992. We didn’t win a game in the championship in my first four years on the Tyrone senior team.
“If these fellas are on a high thinking they are just going to go and win Ulster senior championships, it just doesn’t work like that. It’s not that straightforward.
“Serious work lies ahead. As a group, if they’re willing to make those sacrifices and work hard, then I think the future should be sound.”
The 2003 All-Ireland winning captain is heartened also by the restructuring of the Tyrone underage development squads.
“There is a feeling that maybe things weren’t rosy, that boxes were being ticked, and things were just going through the motions.
“There is a feeling we can do things much better.
“A new coaching officer in Benny Hurl is there and he has restructured the underage programme.”
Canavan reckons a fascinating summer lies ahead, disagreeing entirely with the conversation concerning the death of football.
“I know Jarlath [Burns] well and I would disagree with his belief. I’ll take him back to the 70s and the 80s and show him plenty of poor games of football.
“That didn’t mean we changed the rules because of one poor game.
“You don’t want to see the fare that was on offer that night [Dublin v Derry] too many times, and I don’t think you will.”
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