GAA Football

Connor McAliskey opts out of Tyrone panel for next season but says door is not closed on career with Red Hands

Connor McAliskey celebrates a goal during Tyrone's march to the All-Ireland final in 2018. Pic Philip Walsh.

HOT on the heels of losing midfielder Mattie Donnelly for six months due to a hamstring injury, Tyrone have been dealt a further blow with the news that forward Connor McAliskey has decided to take a break from inter-county football next season.

The Clonoe clubman, who joined the Red Hands' senior set-up in 2013, says he is “physically and mentally” unable to give the commitment required for 2020 but added that “the door isn't closed” on his Tyrone career.

McAliskey helped the county win back-to-back Ulster titles in 2016 and 2017 and battled back from a career-threatening injury to propel Mickey Harte's men to the All-Ireland final in 2018.

He was the focal point of Tyrone's attack that year, starting all 10 Championship games and registered two goals and 41 points including match-winning hauls of 1-8 against Meath, 1-6 against Cork and three points in the All-Ireland final. The contrast with the game-time he saw in the 2019 season is startling. With Harte opting for a more direct approach led by Cathal McShane and Mattie Donnelly, McAliskey started just one Championship match – a dead-rubber Super8 tie against Dublin at Healy Park in which he top-scored with five points – and made eight other substitute appearances. In all of those he worked feverishly to make an impact and registered a combined 1-5 that included 1-2 against Antrim.

In recent years fellow forwards Darren McCurry, Lee Brennan and Ronan O'Neill have all walked away because of limited opportunities in a Tyrone side that has reached the final four in their last three Championship campaigns. Now McAliskey has followed suit.

“It's a personal decision for me,” he said.

“It has been a tough couple of years for me both in terms of injuries and personally and I just feel the time is right to take a step back and be selfish and put myself first.

“I know the sort of commitment levels that it takes to perform consistently at the highest level and I'm not the sort of person that will do anything if I can't do it 100 per cent. I just feel that physically and mentally I'm not ready to commit to next season and Mickey fully understands my decision.

“He respected what I said to him and he said that if I think of things differently next year then we can sit down and talk and see if I have something to offer. The door isn't closed on my Tyrone career but for the moment I have to be greedy for once and put myself first.”

McAliskey, who turned 28 this week, has had a difficult time over the past two years. He recovered from dislocating his knee in a McKenna Cup game against Cavan in Breffni Park in 2017 to play his part in Tyrone's march to the All-Ireland final the following year during which he was forced to come to terms with the sudden death of brother-in-law Christopher Colhoun, husband of his sister Lisa.

There were rumours that quicksilver forward could now be prepared to try his hand at soccer. The 28-year-old is playing for Coalisland Athletic in the Mid-Ulster League at present but he says he has no plans to pursue a switch to the Irish League.

“I am playing bit of soccer at the minute,” he said.

“I'm just playing with my friends in the Mid-Ulster League, it's not soccer at Irish League level. It's nothing to do with my decision to step away.

“I'm playing for Coalisland Athletic in Mid-Ulster One. I'm friendly with boys from Clonoe and Coalisland and it was something different to do on a Saturday. I had always played so when Clonoe finished up this year I decided to kick a bit again with them – it's just for enjoyment.”

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