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McAliskey drawing on power of positivity to fire up Tyrone

Clonoe sharpshooter believes tight-knit Red Hands have the right mentality as they aim to beat Mayo and reach All-Ireland semi-final

By Declan Bogue

Published 06/08/2016

Looking up: Connor McAliskey is savouring being a part of the Tyrone panel
Looking up: Connor McAliskey is savouring being a part of the Tyrone panel

In the final throes of the Ulster title victory over Donegal, with Tyrone ace Connor 'Skeet' McAliskey off the field and agonising by the dugout, the cameras panned to his stressed countenance. He wasn't looking at the pitch. He couldn't bear it.

Instead, he was looking up at the stands to his Clonoe O'Rahilly's clubmate and county substitute goalkeeper Michael O'Neill.

"We were talking to each other in a secret code!" McAliskey says. "I was telling him that we need another point. And then I think Kieran McGeary hit his point, and I looked up at him and he was staring back at me. That's the moment they caught; the sheer tension of me looking at Mickey and thinking, 'we can win this!'"

Soon after, the three sweet peeps of David Coldrick's whistle confirmed that the Red Hands were Ulster champions once more. All that sacrifice had been turned into something tangible as McAliskey posed for pictures with his father Sean to mark the occasion. His mother, Bertilla, goes along for the journey but can never bring herself to watch the game.

"I think she is afraid of me getting hurt," points out McAliskey (below). "It's not just us who are making the commitment. Your family is changing everything just to suit you.

"For example, my sister Lisa had a child recently and the christening was based around county football so I could be there."

Once the madness of the dressing room abated, Tyrone made their way to Monaghan town for a meal in the Westenra Hotel. From there, it was on to Omagh to celebrate in that fabled John Street nightspot, Sally O'Brien's.

Nobody with official Tyrone gear had to put their hand in their pocket all night, and the 24-year-old positively bristles when he recalls some people saying they were off to the ice baths for a recovery session.

"People talk about Gaelic footballers not going out, not celebrating," he says. "I don't know where the boys are getting their information from. I think people are making it up."

Clearly, the perception of inter-county players walking around under a dark cloud bothers him. Ahead of today's All-Ireland quarter-final against Mayo, he continued unprompted: "Nobody handcuffs me to Garvaghey. If I don't want to be here, I wouldn't be.

"But I'm the same as 36 other players here; they want to be here. I can think of 100 different ways I could spend my Tuesday nights, but I want to be here training with Tyrone."

He has other commitments in his life. After the interview, he and girlfriend Anna were meeting a mortgage specialist as they prepare to get on the property ladder.

In recent years, he has taken holidays skiing in Austria and sunbathing in Salou and Tenerife. At the end of last year, he took his holidays from work at Powerscreen and he and Anna went all-inclusive to Cancún.

He could use those Tuesdays to work through his box sets of Prison Break, Suits and even his latest guilty pleasure, Gossip Girl. Instead, he wants to be out there, in pursuit of something he loves.

Throughout the interview, he radiates a sunny disposition and his smile never wavers. Though when it comes down to business, he is deadly serious.

The night before a game, he likes to get home early for a bit of meditation and visualisation. Even in the half hour we talk, he uses the word 'positive' 10 times.

"For me, this week I'll be looking at the Cavan League final - I scored five points from play, and I'll be looking at positives," he states.

"I don't think it's any good for your mentality to be thinking about things you should have done. You look at the positives, what the team has done, and the team usually performs well in Croke Park."

That is, however, apart from the last time they met Mayo, in an ill-fated 2013 All-Ireland semi-final. That was McAliskey's first year on the panel. That they meet now is no surprise.

"At the start of the year we talked about two or three teams that could win the All-Ireland and Mayo was one of the teams mentioned. They were going for six Connachts in a row and one defeat doesn't ruin a good team," he says.

Back in that semi-final three years ago, an early hit by Tom Cunniffe ended Peter Harte's involvement. Stephen O'Neill also picked up an injury.

Currently in their second year under the strength and conditioning guidance of Peter Donnelly, Harte would now ride that challenge. Tyrone are a leaner and meaner proposition. But they need to be to live with the likes of Mayo.

"People talk about the game not being as physical but boys are taking big hits," says McAliskey. "But I'd say as a squad, Peter Donnelly has got us into a serious physical condition."

And that's a good thing, because Croke Park is going to be a battleground this afternoon. All McAliskey wants is the ammunition, and he can fire.

Belfast Telegraph

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