'Peter the Great' reaches the summit with Tyrone
Red hand rules September 21, 2003
When the Red Hand reigned for the first time (2003 All-Ireland football final) Peter Canavan's eyes flashed with pride as he clinched his fist in a salute to manager Mickey Harte. The Tyrone captain said nothing but his face carried an unmistakeable message: "We've done it."
After 13 roller-coaster years aboard Tyrone teams that gone through every emotion except the special one that comes with winning an All-Ireland senior football title for the first time, 'Peter the Great' had finally reached the summit. Tyrone had finally won the All-Ireland title.
A year earlier, Armagh, managed by Joe Kernan and captained by Kieran McGeeney, had enjoyed a similarly enriching experience.
Now, Tyrone had not only supplanted Armagh as All-Ireland champions, they had achieved it by beating Kernan's men in the final.
And while Armagh, who had re-launched their All-Ireland bid through the qualifiers after losing to Monaghan in the first round of the Ulster championship, were bitterly disappointed they were also uniquely placed to identify with the joy Tyrone were experiencing.
That Tyrone made the All-Ireland breakthrough with Canavan as captain was almost inevitable. He had been the embodiment of their enduring struggle throughout the 1990s, including a desperately close call against Dublin in the 1995 All-Ireland final, which Tyrone lost by a point.
Still, when he passed his 32nd birthday in early 2003 without an All-Ireland success, it was beginning to look as if he might end his career with the worthy but unfulfilled status as one of the best players never to win Gaelic football's biggest prize.
All that changed in 2003 when, after winning the Allianz League title, Tyrone embarked on a high-powered championship campaign. They had to call on all their resilience to beat Derry and Down in replays in Ulster (they also beat Antrim) before ousting Fermanagh, Kerry and Armagh in the All-Ireland series. It established the basis for the most successful period in Tyrone history which also yielded All-Ireland titles in 2005 and 2008.