| 7.7°C Belfast

Tyrone set sights on turning pain into big gain


Nothing handy: Connor McAliskey acknowledges that Tyrone face a huge task against Mayo on Saturday

Nothing handy: Connor McAliskey acknowledges that Tyrone face a huge task against Mayo on Saturday

Nothing handy: Connor McAliskey acknowledges that Tyrone face a huge task against Mayo on Saturday

The hurt they experienced in last year's All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Kerry has since proved the spur that has taken Tyrone on an unbeaten journey since mid-December and to within three wins of taking delivery of the Sam Maguire Cup.

For hot-shot forward Connor McAliskey, the disappointment and disillusionment occasioned by a failure to reach the 2015 final are still raw ­- and he's happy to acknowledge that.

"We knew how close we were to winning last year's semi-final against Kerry but a couple of refereeing decisions and a few breaks of the ball went against us," admits McAliskey.

"When we re-grouped at the start of this year we committed ourselves to taking things one game at a time. Then when we won the O'Fiaich Cup and the McKenna Cup this gave us the impetus to get promoted in the league."

"It was on then to winning the Ulster final but we still feel that our game-by-game policy has stood to us. It has all gone to plan so far because the boys have worked very hard."

Despite his team's formidable playing record spanning the past eight months, McAliskey believes they will need to find an even higher level if they are to get past Mayo on Saturday.

"The fact that competition for places has been fierce all along the line is standing to us more than ever now," insists McAliskey.

"The players who maybe don't make the match day squads still have a part to play because of the pressure they help to keep on the rest of us in training. You look at these boys on the training ground and you see how close they are to getting into the side.

"They are pushing people on and the next match could see such players get their chance to enjoy game time. It's the cumulative effort from the 35 players in the squad that has got us to where we are now and obviously it will take an even bigger effort from us all if we want to move on further."

The normally free-scoring McAliskey failed to hit the target in the provincial decider and this makes him even more determined to make the chances that come his way tomorrow count.

"Maybe our shot selection was a bit off at times but the fact that we finished the Ulster final so strongly gives us great heart going into this game against Mayo who have been showing good form lately," states McAliskey.

His desire to get his name on the score sheet is shared by Mark Bradley, who scored a superb point in last year's semi-final against Kerry which helped to keep his side in contention up until the closing minutes when the Kingdom pulled clear.

"While I was pleased to score in that match, I will expect more of myself if I get game time on Saturday," states Bradley.

"It's great to have got this far and we are certainly taking nothing for granted. Donegal were a massive challenge for us in the Ulster final but Mayo will now be a bigger obstacle because the stakes are so much higher.

"We got a few great points from Peter Harte and Sean Cavanagh that helped to get us over the line at Clones but it's going to take a big team effort on Saturday. It's great to have silverware back in Tyrone and hopefully there might even be more to come."

Like McAliskey, Bradley acknowledges that the bitter pill of defeat in last year's semi-final has served to stoke ambition this time round.

"We felt we did not do ourselves full justice on that occasion and now we are in the frame to get another chance of reaching the final but we're looking no further than Saturday's game. Mayo have gained in confidence since losing to Galway in the Connacht final and they are sure to put their best foot forward against us," adds Bradley.

"They will feel they have a big point to prove at Croke Park."

Belfast Telegraph