Belfast Telegraph

Monday 29 December 2014

Tyrone keeper vows to pull out all the stops to thwart rampant Mayo

Goalkeeper Pascal McConnell
Goalkeeper Pascal McConnell

Tyrone goalkeeper Pascal McConnell plans to stand tall on Sunday in the All Ireland semi-final clash with Mayo.

That won’t be very hard to do of course given that the Newtownstewart clubman is 6ft 4in with the girth to complement this.

But the long-serving custodian acknowledges that he is facing into one of the biggest tests of his career given the harvest of goals which free-scoring Mayo have reaped to date.

And McConnell is acutely aware that Cillian O’Connor, a double hat-trick hero from Mayo’s last two wins over London in the Connacht final and Donegal in the All Ireland quarter-final, potentially poses the greatest threat to his prospects of keeping another clean sheet.

O’Connor’s triple strike against London may have been noteworthy but his treble blast against Donegal has all but assured him of an All Star award.

“Cillian has scored two hat-tricks lately and is one of the best forwards in the country,” acknowledges McConnell. “He is a confidence player and is not afraid to go for goals.

“He is in tremendous form and obviously he will be hard to stop.”

The Mayo forward’s opportunism has underpinned their surge into the last four in the All Ireland title race but while McConnell harbours new-found respect for James Horan’s side, he nonetheless retains faith in Tyrone’s ability to sustain their recent winning streak.

“It is my job to stop goals and I will certainly be doing my best to achieve that. As far as we are concerned, Mayo have six forwards and indeed other players who are capable of hitting the net,” states McConnell.

“Goals win games — look at last year’s All Ireland final — but Mayo themselves have been very clinical this year.

“They will punish you if they get a chance.

“But having said that you have to be confident in your own ability and it is up to me to cut down angles and to make life difficult for the Mayo forwards.

“I think as a team we are a good unit and we have people like Sean Cavanagh and others playing some of the best football of their careers.

“This gives us great encouragement going into this game and while we respect Mayo we don’t see any reason to fear them. We have trained hard and worked on aspects of our game that we weren’t entirely happy with against Monaghan.”

McConnell’s kick-outs will form a key weapon in Tyrone’s ammunition and the big goalkeeper, conscious that he made a second-half lapse against Monaghan, is hoping to achieve maximum consistency this time out.

“Our games in training are very competitive and this gives me the chance to focus strongly on my kick-outs and vary the deliveries,” points out McConnell.

“When you are involved in high-profile matches at Croke Park such as next Sunday’s there is always the strong possibility that if a goal-kick goes astray then it could end up in the back of the net.

“That nearly happened against Monaghan — a lapse in concentration can be fatal.”

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