Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Clonoe ready for assault on Ulster

Top scorer: Connor McAliskey had 1-18 in Championship

Despite their objections to the scheduling of the domestic Championship, Tyrone champions Clonoe O'Rahilly's already have one eye on the Ulster Club Championship preliminary round when they face Ballinderry Shamrocks this Sunday at Celtic Park (throw-in 3.30pm).

"We are definitely going to enjoy tonight, when you win the Tyrone Championship," said an exalted Connor McAliskey after the county final win over Carrickmore on Sunday, their first O'Neill Cup since the extra-time win over Dromore in 2008.

McAliskey continued: "Tomorrow there will be a recovery and back to training on Tuesday night because I can't see why you would win Tyrone and not give Ulster a good rattle."

McAliskey's four points in the game were enough to secure The Patsy Forbes Trophy for the highest-scoring player of the Championship. He landed 1-18 in four games, pipping Gerard Toner of Coalisland who posted 3-7 in his two outings.

His final score came as an instant riposte to an inspirational point by Carrickmore midfielder Niall Loughran. His turn-and shoot effort from serious distance kept the momentum of the O'Rahilly's after PJ Lavery had landed their third goal to dent the Carmen resilience.

Yet at half-time a Clonoe victory looked unlikely. After McAliskey had threaded a ball across the face of the goal for Paul Coney to net after 12 minutes, they failed to score for the rest of the first half as Carrickmore turned the screw, levelling matters just before the interval.

Explaining the lull in their attacking play, McAliskey said: "At the start we were kicking the ball in and seemed to have a wee bit of space. Maybe the next spell we sat back and tried to run the ball. We didn't change anything tactically but maybe in our heads we sat back.

"We got in at half-time, regrouped, and then got the ball moving again."

A Danny McNulty goal at the start of the second half ignited their challenge and Tyrone star McAliskey feels his fellow inside-forward has a future in the white and red of the Red Hands as well as the white of Clonoe.

"The potential of that man is scary, what a player – his physique, the skill that man has. It's brilliant to have him in there beside you, it's just a weight off your shoulders, helps you along. When you have a target man like that ... Every team I believe has to have a man like that for the extra dimension in your game. Small men in the corners and big man in full-forward and Danny all year long has been doing it. He has a brilliant future ahead of him."

Asked if that step up could be as early as the 2014 season, he replied: "Ack, well he's only 19. A man like that has a lot of growing to do, he definitely has done a bit over the last year but he has put his head down and trained hard. I think he is going to be a big player in the future for Tyrone."

Talk of Tyrone is premature with Ballinderry in the horizon. But for the time being, Clonoe manager Damian Cassidy was enjoying the significance of the moment.

"I told our lads that this was the big one, it really was the big one," Cassidy reflected.

"They are all important but this was really big. We have a young team, there are a couple hitting around the 30 mark but the vast majority, we are talking 13 of the under-21 final team, some of the players on the Tyrone minors. This year was going to be vital in building that self-belief.

"If you lose a final in 2011, lose it again in 2013 it would be very hard to convince boys that we are as good as I think we are. This victory is going to go a long way to cementing that belief."

Having been in Clonoe since 2008 – punctuated by a two-year term as Derry manager, Cassidy has built strong relationships in the O'Rahilly's club, underlined by McAliskey's praise for his manager when he says: "The man is unbelievable. I have never had a manager as good as Damian Cassidy.

"He's in the club four years, we have won two Championships, into a final and we have won a league. The man is unreal and I am sure he will be about Clonoe next year to bring this team on."

As for Sunday? "Being from Bellaghy, Damian knows his stuff about Derry football, he knows what Ballinderry are about, you know yourself what they are about, you hear them and see the football they play. They are a team like Carrickmore, their tradition is unreal and we know we are going into next week, we will build for it from Tuesday."