By Niall Gartland
TYRONE will head into the bearpit of Ballybofey with their championship campaign firmly on the line this Saturday, but Connor McAliskey believes they have what it takes to book their place in the last eight of the All-Ireland.
The former Tyrone sharpshooter recognises that the team is yet to reach the heights of two seasons ago, but believes that there’s more than enough talent in the panel to throw down the gauntlet to Donegal this Saturday and emerge as serious contenders in the race for the Sam Maguire.
Performances so far have been a mixed bag, but McAliskey knows from personal experience of playing for Tyrone for years that the raw ingredients are there and it’s just a matter of harnessing it.
The Clonoe man said: “I think Tyrone are going through a patch of just about doing enough to stay in the competition, but Saturday is a good opportunity to kick-start their season, particularly with the rivalry we have with Donegal.
“We possibly haven’t offered enough attacking threat from our half-forward line but I think that’s largely due to the way we’ve been set up.
“When Tyrone won the All-Ireland two years ago, the likes of Kieran McGeary and Niall Sludden were kicking two or three points again, and you’d Conor McKenna, who I believe is a massive miss because of his goal-scoring threat.
“But you saw Kieran come on against Westmeath and play well, so maybe there’s an opening for him to push his way back into the team, and I think the new lads like Cormac Quinn and Joe Oguz have been playing well, it’ll just take a bit of time for them to establish themselves, you can’t expect new lads to come in and start playing like Peter Harte or Conor Meyler overnight.
“Sometimes we expect too much of young lads, it takes players a bit of time to find their feet at this level.”
It’s never easy to get the better of Donegal at Ballybofey, a fortress if there ever was one, but McAliskey believes that the expected return of Darren McCurry could be crucial this weekend.
“I watched Tyrone’s league game against Donegal and we were comfortably the better team, but Donegal seem to have risen from the ashes, they were written off completely but they were never as bad as portrayed.
“Historically going to Ballybofey has proven difficult, and they’ve picked up a bit of form, so it’s going to be difficult for Tyrone.
“I still fancy Tyrone to get the result. Darragh (Cananvan) showed again how good he is against Westmeath, he’s a ridiculous talent and people don’t always appreciate his ball-winning ability as well as taking scores. His first touch is class as well.
“I think if Tyrone’s going to win, they’ll need Darren McCurry back, he’s been in lethal form as well. It sounds as if he’ll be able to play and that’s a huge bonus for Tyrone as he always shows up for us.”