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Twenty years on Former Tyrone GAA star Peter Canavan recalls losing his cousin in New York 9/11 attacks

'He was very proud to wear his Tyrone jersey'


Sky Sports GAA football analyst Peter Canavan

Sky Sports GAA football analyst Peter Canavan

Sky Sports GAA football analyst Peter Canavan

Former Tyrone GAA star Peter Canavan has recalled the death of his beloved cousin in the 9/11 attacks in New York. 

Peter who is now a Sky Sports GAA football analyst had family living in the city at the time, but 20 years on he remembers how it had not occurred to him that they may have been directly affected.

"Not for one minute did I think he would be in any danger," Canavan told the BBC’s Sportsound Extra Time about his cousin Sean who was caught up in the attacks 20 years ago.

"It was a normal Monday afternoon, I was coming in from the pitches at Holy Trinity College and on the way in one of the teachers came across to let me know about what was happening in New York.

"He had asked me had I many friends of relatives out there and I said I had, but I hadn't heard anything and hopefully they'd be OK."

It was as the harrowing pictures played out on TV that word came through that Sean had been working on the 98th floor of the World Trade Center's South Tower that morning.

Sean, who worked as a carpenter for an installation resources firm, witnessed American Airlines flight 11 crashing into the North Tower at 8.46 Eastern Time.

He phoned his sister Kathleen to explain that he was OK, and that he was going to get out of the area as quickly as possible.

However, it was the last communication Sean had with his family.

"Kathleen was watching the television and saw the second tower was hit. You can imagine the trauma that she was going through watching that," Peter says.

"It was hard because with the phone lines down communication wasn't great, so you were just waiting day after day, waiting on the call to say Sean had been found.

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"A number of fellas he was working with did make it out of the South Tower, but unfortunately Sean never got that far."

The Tyrone county final that Peter had been preparing for was forgotten.

"From football very much being front and centre of your thought process I think it was fair to say for myself, [brother and team-mate] Pascal and the rest of the clan it was very difficult to prepare for a football match, it just didn't have the same meaning".

Sean's death was only officially confirmed nearly a year after the attacks following the recovery of some DNA.

"It's a devastating loss and 20 years on speaking to relatives, his brothers and sisters, it's still very raw," says Peter.

"Sean was a very jovial character. Outgoing with a very bubbly personality, he would have been over [to Ireland] back and forward, his father Ciaran left in the 1950s to go over to New York, he met Rose McAllister, a south Armagh woman and they raised their family out there.

"Thankfully myself and Pascal through the football were out there playing football at various stages. You could never go to New York without calling in with your uncle Ciaran.

"Inevitably Sean and his younger brother Ciaran always made themselves available. If they weren't lifting you at the airport they were joining you in the craic back at the house.

"He was proud of his roots and where he came from and despite the fact that he maybe couldn't kick the ball too far he was very proud to wear his Tyrone jersey."

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