Connor McAliskey hails Tyrone's blend of youth and experience
THE craft and guile of a seasoned Donegal team has been the undoing of many challengers over a seven-year period that has changed the face of Gaelic football.
Through exceptional levels of consistency mined from a life of unity and dedication on the road, the mighty men of Tir Chonaill have claimed a place in the Ulster SFC final for a sixth consecutive season.
Opponents Tyrone have not been there since 2010, an absence from the northern province’s showpiece occasion that feels like a lifetime to the legions of supporters who gorged themselves on All-Ireland titles during the bountiful noughties.
Only a handful of members of the current Red Hand squad possess Ulster Championship medals, but Connor McAliskey is confident they can counteract Donegal’s experience on July 17 with their own approach to game management.
“Donegal have experience, but you have to look at our squad too, we have experience as well, and we have young boys coming in showing no fear,” he said.
“It’s going to be an interesting battle in a couple of weeks and hopefully we can get one over on them.”
The Cavanagh brothers, Cathal McCarron, Aidan McCrory, Mattie Donnelly and Peter Harte have nothing to learn when it comes to handling the pressure of a big Championship occasion.
And with other experienced heads back in harness following injury, notably Justin McMahon and Ronan McNabb, who both made impressive returns in the replay win over Cavan on Sunday, squad depth is moving in the right direction.
Then there’s the balance these men strike with exciting, emerging talents such as Cathal McShane and Niall Sludden, who performed like veterans at St Tiernach’s Park as the Red Hands bombed the Breffnimen in a five-goal blitz.
“It’s hard to pick the 15, it’s hard pick the 26. There’s a lot of boys there pushing, boys coming into the frame,” said McAliskey.
“Rory [Brennan] came on and first touch scored a goal, Johnny [Munroe] came on and put the ball over the bar. There’s boys really making a push for it and everyone wants to be playing, especially in an Ulster final, so everyone will be training hard for the next couple of weeks and we’ll try and push on.”
McAliskey was among the goals and the Clonoe man was delighted that the team has found the touch in front of the posts: “It was a very tight game, and maybe we just had that bit of composure in front of nets, and got the couple of goals that gave us the freedom to push on a wee bit,” he added.
“We put up a big score there, but we conceded 2-17 as well, so you have to look at the flip side. We need to tighten up a few things, and we have a lot to work on for the Ulster final.
“If you concede 2-17 most days you’ll get beat. We got a couple of goals and everybody slackened off a wee bit, so it’s something we need to look on the next couple of weeks in training, looking at the video and see what we need to improve on.
“The goals helped us and gave us that bit of a lead, and you could see Cavan had to come out trying to push on. The gaps were there, and we made the most of them and got a couple of goals, but there were a few occasions when we didn’t make the most of what was there, and maybe we have to look at that as well, that if the chance is there we have to finish it.
“For the first couple of goals, we worked the ball well, and we created the space for ourselves. It’s something we’re going to have to look at, see how it worked well.”