Dream of turning out for Tyrone pushed Connor McAliskey on as comeback continues against Pomeroy
THE slim chance of pulling on a Tyrone jersey in the latter stages of the All-Ireland was a driving force for Connor McAliskey during some of the dark days after his cruciate ligament nightmare.
McAliskey’s inter-county season came to an abrupt end after just 62 minutes when he ruptured the ACL in the Red Hands’ opening Dr McKenna Cup game back on January 8.
It was a bitter blow for the 26-year-old, who was in a full leg cast for three weeks afterwards, then a brace for another month.
It wasn’t just football that had to be put on the backburner, so too a new job. Having gone for an interview with the Craigavon-based Almac Group before Christmas, McAliskey received word on January 9 – the day after his injury – that he’d got the nod.
Initial plans to start his job as a purchaser in March had to be put back for a month as his rehab was stepped up, and all the while the desire to get back out on to a football field and do what he does best drove him on.
Mickey Harte didn’t want McAliskey to become disenfranchised so asked him to remain part of the panel, a gesture the Clonoe ace appreciated, and by the end of June he was back training one night a week at Garvaghey.
Soon that became two nights as he returned to full contact training prior to the All-Ireland quarter-final against Armagh.
In terms of recovery, he was where he wanted to be, and that outside chance of getting the call from Harte helped spur him on.
“I was pushing myself to get back to play football at that time of the year,” he said.
“I was pushing to be available for selection, and my aim was to get back playing as much football as I could, whether with Tyrone or the club.
“I hadn’t played football since January so it was a slim-to-none chance that I was going to make any impact on the Tyrone scene, but that wasn’t playing in my head. All I was thinking was ‘if I go and train well, there’s always a chance, isn’t there?’
“I knew if I was able get myself in contention to even be on the 26 for Tyrone in an All-Ireland semi-final, that would put me in a good position for club championship as well.”
And so it has. McAliskey may not have featured in Tyrone’s devastating semi-final defeat to the Dubs, but he is continuing on the road back to his best in time for Clonoe’s tilt at the O’Neill Cup.
Today’s last eight showdown pits the O’Rahilly’s against the last round’s giant-killers, Pomeroy, who sent defending champions Killyclogher out the exit door.
And while many were surprised by that result, McAliskey wasn’t.
His brother-in-law Christopher Colhoun plays for the Plunkett’s and McAliskey detected an air of confidence heading into that game that he believes will have increased further after coming out on top.
“The Tyrone championship is a minefield, you can’t take anything for granted,” said McAliskey, who came on in the last quarter of Clonoe’s last-gasp victory over Dromore a fortnight ago.
“We live next door to each other and I’d been chatting to him coming up to the game and was getting a wee vibe off him that there was a bit of confidence about them.
“I haven’t seen too much of him this week, I don’t know if he’s ignoring me, he maybe doesn’t want to see too much of me. Naw, look, we’ll continue on and if I get a slap at him in a 50-50 ball… it’s all good banter around the house.
“From my own point of view, I’ve been training, playing a bit, so I feel like it’s coming on well.
“I played 15-20 minutes against Dromore and, I don’t know if it’s because it was so intense or the ground was that heavy, but I knew I’d been playing football again.
It was hard going but it was a good feeling.
“I’ve another two weeks over me, I’m available to come on again if Damian thinks that’s what we need to do.”