Tyrone’s greatest forwards rated

1 Peter Canavan

IF ever a sentence bears repeating it’s this – Peter Canavan is some footballer.” Those were the words uttered by commentating legend Jimmy Magee after a particularly jaw-dropping point by Canavan during Tyrone’s famous victory over Derry in 1995. For talent alone, Canavan would be at the top of the list, but his longevity, leadership and bravery has him in the conversation for the greatest player of all time. His leadership qualities were evident from an early age as he captained Tyrone’s back-to-back All-Ireland u-21 successes in 1991 and 1991, by which time he was already a starter on the senior team. He won his first All-Star in 1994 at the age of 23, and the following year he gave a string of sensational performances as Tyrone came agonisingly close to winning their first All-Ireland. As a footballer he had few peers; deadly accurate off both feet with a box of tricks to match, a reliable free-taker, a superb passer of the ball whose speed of thought was unmatchable, he really did have it all. In 2003, Canavan finally shook off his tag as “the greatest player never to win an All-Ireland”, captaining the team to the Sam Maguire. He could’ve called it quits there and then, but he carried on for another two years and played a major part in their 2005 success as well – that late point against Armagh and that goal against Kerry, what a way to crown a magnificent career

2 Frank McGuigan

RENOWNED former Tyrone coach Tony Donnelly said McGuigan was the most naturally gifted player he’s ever seen, and he probably wouldn’t be alone in that opinion. McGuigan lived in America for six years during his prime, and his career was cut short when he was involved in a horrific car crash, but he still left a serious impact on Tyrone football, inspiring the likes of Peter Canavan. Outside the county, he’s best known for his almost comically good display against Armagh in the 1984 Ulster final, scoring 11 points from play. His fielding ability was incredibly, sometimes catching the ball with one hand, and his use of the dummy solo left many defenders reeling.

3 Stephen O’Neill

A REGULAR scorer of ridiculous, head-scratching points, O’Neill is fondly remembered across Ireland for his scoring exploits for more than a decade for Tyrone. Which is your favourite? When he somehow got his angles right to nick over a quite remarkable point against Dublin in 2009, much to the astonishment of everyone in the crowd? When he left Kildare wing-back Peter Kelly looking the eejit with a fantastic solo dummy before splitting the posts from an almost impossible angle in 2013? There’s a host of other contenders as well. O’Neill was part of the great Tyrone minor team in the late-‘90s, and he won his first of three All-Stars in 2001. The Clann na nGael man came off the bench to kick two important late points against Armagh in the 2003 All-Ireland final while in 2005, he won a clean sweep of the Texaco award, the Gaelic Players’ award and the Vodafone award for Footballer of the Year, after a monumental year where he scored a total of 64 points (5-49). Following two years where he was blighted by injuries, he announced a premature retirement but came back for the 2008 final and retired for good in 2014.

4 Brian Dooher

ANOTHER Clann na nGael man, Dooher was a different sort of player than his club colleague. He was known across Ireland as one of the most indefatigable and durable players in the game – he could run all day, was unerring under the breaking ball, and tackled like his life depended on it – but he was also a brilliant point-scorer for the Red Hands. It’s difficult to focus on specific matches, as he was a model of consistency, but there were a few games where he reached almost superhuman levels; like the time he scored five points from play against pre-match favourites Donegal in an Ulster Championship semi-final clash in 2007, or his major contribution to Tyrone’s All-Ireland quarter-final victory against Dublin in the rain in 2008. Dooher was also an exemplary team captain between 2005 and 2011 before deciding to call it a day. The best half-forward of his era and a true Tyrone legend.

5 Iggy Jones

IT’S sometimes hard to judge players from the distant past, but Iggy Jones is a name familiar to everyone in Tyrone football. He was part of the breakthrough Tyrone team that won back-to-back Ulster Championships in 1956 and 1957, and he also scored 3-4 for St Pat’s, Armagh when they won the Hogan Cup against St Jarlath’s Tuam a few years previous, one of the all-time great individual performances. He was short of stature but his ball-carrying ability was extraordinary, all the more so as it was era when catch and kick reigned supreme.

6 Brian McGuigan

THE player’s player; McGuigan was a playmaker like no other – he wasn’t overtly flashy like Ciaran McDonald, he was happy to let others take the bulk of the scores, but his importance to Tyrone’s three All-Ireland wins can’t be overstated. McGuigan stepped out of the shadows of his famous father Frank with some scintillating performances en route to Tyrone’s maiden All-Ireland SFC victory in 2003, while his premature return from Australia in 2005 turned out to be a pivotal moment as Mickey Harte’s side claimed a second All-Ireland in three years. His performance against Kerry in the final was his finest hour, scoring three points and pulling the strings throughout. His composure on the ball was incredible, and it’s just a shame that injury curtailed the second half of his career. The Ardboe man was determined to make it back from horror leg and eye injuries and came on as a substitute in the closing stages of the 2008 All-Ireland final. It’s no coincidence that Tyrone controlled the tempo for the final 15 minutes of that game as they carved out yet another sensational victory against the Kingdom.

7 Owen Mulligan

MULLIGAN was always a particularly enjoyable player to watch for his sheer unpredictability – he wasn’t always on form, but when he was, he was as good as any forward in the country. He scored a goal within 30 seconds of his championship debut against Armagh back in 2001, but it took a few years to establish himself as a starting forward. He showed his mental toughness in Tyrone’s famous comeback against Down in the 2003 Ulster final, driving forward when all looked lost, and hit two crucial frees from long range against Armagh in the All-Ireland final. His form had dipped in 2005, but his season turned around after scoring one of the greatest goals of all time against Dublin in the All-Ireland quarter-final. He was named man of the match for his performance against Kerry in the final, scoring four points and showing brilliant awareness to set up Peter Canavan’s goal on the stroke of half time.

8 Sean Cavanagh

WE weighed up whether to include Cavanagh as he’s predominately known as an attack-minded midfielder, but he scored so heavily over the years that he’s definitely deserving of mention. In fact, his best season for Tyrone was in 2008 when he was played as an out-and-out full-forward, scoring five points from play in an unbelievable performance against Kerry in the final. Scored a mountain of goals during his career as well, while defenders across the country struggled to cope with his trademark shimmy. Cavanagh, who won five All-Stars, delivered on the biggest stage time-and-time again; popping up with a crucial late point in the semi-final clash against Armagh in 2003 or hitting one of the finest scores you’ll ever see in Tyrone’s memorable Ulster Championship final win over fierce rivals Donegal in 2016. The list goes on, really.

9 Frankie Donnelly

LIKE Iggy Jones, Donnelly was part of the Tyrone’s breakthrough era in the mid-50s, claiming two Ulster Championships in-a-row. Donnelly was the Ulster Championship’s top-scorer on both occasions, and holds the record for the highest individual scoring tally in an intercounty match with 4–11 against Fermanagh in 1957. He also played regularly on the Ulster Railway Cup side, winning two medals, and he had a brilliant club career with Carrickmore spanning two decades. He was just 16 years of age when he helped Carrickmore win the 1949 title, and by that stage he already had a couple of seasons at senior football under his belt.

10 Adrian Cush

ADRIAN Cush was a super footballer – and you often hear it said that Tyrone would’ve won the All-Ireland final in 1995 if he’d been fit to play on the day. A nephew of another Tyrone great, Patsy Hetherington, Cush came to prominence early on in his career. By the time he turned 21, he’d won an Ulster U-21 Championship, an Ulster Minor Championship and an All-Ireland Vocational Schools title. He was even playing Railway Cup football at that early stage, and he formed a deadly partnership up front with Peter Canavan. Work commitments meant that he spent a lot of his prime years in London, which maybe curtailed his influence a little bit, but he’s definitely one of the most talented forwards the county has produced.

Receive quality journalism wherever you are, on any device. Keep up to date from the comfort of your own home with a digital subscription.
Any time | Any place | Anywhere


Gaelic Life is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
Registered in Northern Ireland, No. R0000576. 10-14 John Street, Omagh, Co. Tyrone, N. Ireland, BT781DW