GAA Football

I hope I did them proud says Connor McAliskey after brave Tyrone bow out in All-Ireland final showdown

Connor McAliskey scored three points in Sunday's All-Ireland final. Pic Philip Walsh.
Andy Watters

CONNOR McAliskey hoped he had done his sister Lisa and his nieces proud when he reflected on his display in Tyrone’s All-Ireland final loss to Dublin on Sunday.

McAliskey had landed two points in the opening quarter to help the Red Hands shade the early exchanges before back-to-back Dublin goals left Tyrone playing catch-up.

Between those goals - on the 23-minute mark - a chant of ‘Crico, Crico’ rang out among Tyrone fans in memory of McAliskey’s brother-in-law Christopher Colhoun, Lisa’s husband and proud dad of Grace and Beth, who died tragically of a rare ’flu in January.

McAliskey had been alerted to the tribute, organised on social media, before the game and said it illustrated “how well respected” his brother-in-law had been. A talented footballer, ‘Crico’ played with Tyrone and Pomeroy Plunketts and his club retired the number 23 jersey after his death.

“We have a family WhatsApp group and I saw it (news of the tribute) in it,” said McAliskey before boarding the team bus at Croke Park.

“It’s something that you have to draw on. It (the death of a family member) can either make you or break you and obviously it’s a tough situation to be in but it just shows how well respected he was and it was nice for him to be remembered.

“Inside our family circle we are never going to forget him and on a day like this it’s something that is very difficult to deal with but you have to use that emotion to drive you on instead of setting you back.

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“All year it has been something that I have been using to really drive on for Lisa and the girls and hopefully I did them proud.”

With McAliskey to the fore, Tyrone’s bright start conjured up fleeting images of a shock result on Sunday. The Red Hands’ passing was accurate and their movement was sharp and the four in-a-row chasing Dubs struggled to contain them before Paul Mannion converted a disputed penalty after 20 minutes.

“We had a gameplan and we stuck to it,” McAliskey explained.

Lisa Colhoun with Grace and Beth

“We were 5-1 up and then we missed a few chances to extend the lead. At that stage we probably had the upperhand on them and I don’t think they expected us to come at them like that.

“The penalty swung the momentum of the game. I thought it was a very questionable penalty call but fair play to Dublin, the great team that they are, they went and they capitalised on the swing in momentum and they got the second goal and that put us under the cosh.

“But it says a lot about our team that we came out seven points down at half-time and really pushed it.

Christopher and Lisa Colhoun. Christopher, known as 'Crico', died of 'flu in January of this year

“A lot of teams would have lay down and got beat by maybe double figures but we were still there, we still worked deadly hard but it wasn’t to be our day. We are just going to have to try and learn and come back.”

Seven of the Dubliners who featured in the final are the wrong side of 30. Only one Tyrone player – Colm Cavanagh (31) – has reached that stage and McAliskey is confident that the Red Hands can regroup and come back next season wiser for the experience.

“A lot of us were experiencing an All-Ireland final for the first time - everyone except for Colly (Cavanagh) who was there before (in 2008),” he said.

Tyrone fought to the finish against Dublin, but Jim Gavin's side completed a four in-a-row. Pic Philip Walsh.

“Everyone says ‘It’s just another game of football’ but it’s just different – the build-up, the crowd, the atmosphere… It is different and it’s something hopefully we can build on in the future. It’s a long way back to a day like today but we have a team, we have a county board, we have sponsors backing us and hopefully we can get back here; that would be great.”

He admits that the Dubs are a “step above” every other county at present and, such is their dominance; it will be a surprise if they don’t complete a record-breaking five in-a-row next year.

Christopher Colhoun was appointed vice-principal of St Patrick's Primary School, Donaghmore last year. Here, he teaches his pupils the 'Dab'

“You’re sitting there at 5-1 and you’re going well and then they hit a couple of goals and you just think: ‘That’s what they can do’,” said McAliskey, with a shake of his head.

“Credit where credit is due, they are a phenomenal team, they are just that wee step above of everyone at the minute.

“We can be proud of what we’ve done, the road we’ve taken to get here. We’ll have to sit down and learn how we close that gap a wee bit further and overtake them.

“Yes, it’s going to be difficult but I think over the last couple of years we have been working hard and we are closing the gap. We have a very young team and it is definitely there for this squad to achieve the best feeling in Gaelic Football.”

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