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Croker debut comes quickly for McAliskey

By John Campbell

Connor McAliskey has had Saturday, March 16 encircled in his diary for some time now – and with good reason.

Tyrone are due to meet Dublin that night in an Allianz League Division One St Patrick's weekend spectacular that looks certain to bring a whole new dimension to the competition.

And for 21-year-old McAliskey, the match has up until now held the rich prospect of sampling action at Headquarters for the first time.

But a career which has not so much taken off as soared into the stratosphere suddenly brings the talented Clonoe club forward's date with destiny much closer.

It was in Ulster's inter-provincial championship semi-final win over Munster on Sunday that McAliskey was sprung from the bench by manager Joe Kernan in the 55th minute and given the opportunity to show his paces in elite company.

He may only have spent limited time on the Athletic Grounds pitch but manager Kernan's post-match analysis suggests that McAliskey's acquaintance with the rarefied atmosphere of the Croke Park arena could be made in Sunday's final against Leinster.

"Connor impressed me – he won possession on five occasions, showed a sharp turn of pace and laid the ball off intelligently. I have been following his progress with Tyrone and I believe he has a very bright future ahead of him," said Kernan.

McAliskey replaced Mark Poland in the Ulster side and now with Kieran Hughes and Paul McComiskey also having been afforded game time against Munster, competition for starting places for Sunday's final has been stepped up.

"There is a great desire within this Ulster squad and this pleases me. These boys want to keep the inter-pro cup in their care and we could not be going to a better place than Croke Park to prove ourselves," said Kernan.

For McAliskey, the pace of sporting life has quickened considerably.

He may be in his debut season with Tyrone but with important Division One league games about to come thick and fast starting with an alluring tie against All Ireland champions Donegal on Sunday week, his reputation could be further boosted by the end of March.

But the quiet-spoken marksman is treading softly as the plaudits rain in.

"When I was invited by Joe Kernan to join the Ulster squad I couldn't believe it. I am very grateful to Mickey Harte for giving me my chance with Tyrone and now I want to repay both Joe and him for the faith they have shown in me," said McAliskey.

"I had been thinking for a while that it would be a great boost to maybe get a bit of game time for Tyrone against Dublin at Croke Park next month because I have never played there.

"Now there's possibly a chance that I will get a piece of the action against Leinster on Sunday and if it's only a few minutes, I would be very happy.

"But there are a lot of excellent players within this Ulster squad and it's a thrill for me to be sharing the same dressing-room as these boys."

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