Long-serving Tyrone goalkeeper Pascal McConnell has fired out a sharp ‘hands off’ warning to pretenders to the No 1 shirt.
The 32-year-old Newtownstewart clubman is preparing to embark on his 12th season with Tyrone manager Mickey Harte (pictured below) and makes no secret of his desire to add to his already considerable honours haul.
McConnell, who initially impressed at Under 21 level, has since stockpiled three All-Ireland medals, four Ulster Championship gongs and a National League medal with the O’Neill county.
But his appetite for prizes is far from sated and he has already commenced his own rigorous preparations for 2013.
“We have had several retirements from within the Tyrone squad the latest of these being Ryan McMenamin but I’m going nowhere,” raps McConnell.
“I might not be as young as I used to be and it might take a little longer for the odd knock to clear up but I just love playing for Tyrone.
“Nothing gives me greater pleasure than pulling on that goalkeeper’s jersey.”
He may ply his trade at club level in the modest Division Three arena but McConnell is more than comfortable when facing the best forwards in the country in one-on-one situations.
Bernard Brogan, Colm Cooper, Colm O’Neill, Jamie Clarke and the rest invariably encounter difficulty in attempting to outwit the quick-thinking McConnell who is able to cut down angles, spread himself intelligently and reduce forwards’ options.
“As you gain in experience, you learn how to cope better and make things a wee bit easier for yourself. I have been very fortunate to have had some magnificent defenders in front of me down through the years,” says McConnell.
“Boys like Philip Jordan, Conor Gormley, Ryan McMenamin and Justin McMahon — and let’s just say that they did not make it easy for opposing forwards.”
With a raft of new faces set to be introduced to the Tyrone squad, McConnell will find himself cast in the role of father figure and that’s something to which he is looking forward.
“We all had to start somewhere and it’s great to see young guys who actually want to play for Tyrone. That has to be the starting point,” states McConnell.
“You need lads with commitment and pride in the jersey.
“I will give any help I can to anyone because I have always appreciated all the assistance I have been given down through the years.”
He is one of a number of players who will be in contention for places in the Ulster GAA Writers Association Jubilee team that will be unveiled at the annual banquet in the Great Northern Hotel Bundoran on December 7.
“I have been fortunate to win a couple of individual honours along the way but it’s more important that the Tyrone and Newtownstewart teams do well — that’s all that matters to me,” adds McConnell modestly.