Tyrone ace McAliskey remaining upbeat despite being ruled out for 14 months
Dublin v Tyrone, National League: Croke Park, Saturday, 7pm
Tyrone forward Connor McAliskey has revealed that his knee injury is much worse than initially expected and he will be out of football entirely for at least 14 months.
The Clonoe man ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament, but also pulled his medial ligament off the bone when going for the ball in the Red Hands' Dr McKenna Cup opener against Cavan last month.
That means his recovery time has been extended by four months as he waits for the medial to heal, before he can rehab the anterior ligament.
While he has been taken out of a full leg cast, he will remain in a brace for the next two months. During his operation at the Ulster Knee Clinic, specialists took a graft from his right hamstring to use in his left knee as a 'new' cruciate.
"Everyone tells you it's bad that it happened at the start of the year but I'm looking at it the opposite way," he said.
"If it had happened in April, May time I would have missed two years completely with club and county for both years.
"So I have set myself around this time next year in the break in the National League, Round 3 or 4, to be coming back and trying to play a bit of football around then.
"I can't change it now, so there is no point sitting with a sad head on me, I have to try and do something positive for myself.
"I can go to the gym and work on upper body and try to keep myself mentally sane. It's more mental than physical to keep out and about."
He will attend a private session with Red Hands team physio Louis O'Connor for rehab on Monday and Thursday nights as the recovery process begins, while the Gaelic Players' Association has already called to his house offering various educational courses he can take up with a view to career advancement, paid for by the GPA.
Although it is a seriously debilitating injury, he has sympathetic employers in Harpscreen, the company owned by former Tyrone wing-back Kevin McCabe, who has granted him time off while he tries to get some mobility back.
For the first four weeks he was in a full leg cast and once it was cut off he travelled with the squad to the Dr McKenna Cup final, where it hit home that he was going to be sitting in the dressing room all year.
Naturally, it's tough for him to watch on as Tyrone chase a big triumph today. Dublin - and their astonishing 30-game unbeaten run in the league and Championship - is the mission. The venue is Croke Park. Games like this don't come any bigger outside of the summer.
"The last few times we've played them we haven't been far away," he pointed out, referencing the 2015 league game where it took a last-minute Dean Rock goal to snatch a draw, as well as the league final the previous year.
If any team can tie Dublin up in a defensive web, Tyrone look best placed to do it. However, the loss of Matthew Donnelly - who suffered a suspected concussive blow to the head in the early stages of their league win over Roscommon last Sunday - is one Mickey Harte could have done without.
"Everyone was talking up this big game between Dublin v Tyrone and everyone was thinking it could happen last year (in the Championship) but it wasn't something we were talking about," admitted McAliskey.
"They have gone 30 games unbeaten in the league and Championship. They are the top team and it's good to challenge against them in Croke Park and the boys are going well. They had a good win in week one and want to back it up now and play Dublin in their back yard."
Now that he finds himself on the sidelines, he intends to make himself a student of the game.
"I'm going to have a full year watching football, so I will be trying to learn from that," he said. "It will be a learning curve, studying it, thinking what I would have done, what I should have done.
"I will talk to Damian (Cassidy, his manager with Clonoe), my club and Mickey Harte to find out where I need to improve.
"I'll do my rehab and within that focus on key elements and weaknesses to try and improve.
"I'll still only be 25, 26 when I come back, so there's plenty of football ahead of me."