Connor McAliskey and Ryan McKenna come in for Tyrone
Mayo unchanged for semi-final as Robert Hennelly retains place in goal
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte has called up Connor McAliskey to replace the suspended Martin Penrose, while Ryan McKenna comes into the fullback line in place of Dermot Carlin, for Sunday’s All-Ireland football semi-final against Mayo.
McAliskey has been impressive this year in the team that reached the league final, a match he started because of captain Stephen O’Neill’s misfortune in sustaining an injury during the pre-match kick-around. He kicked three points from play that afternoon and made his championship debut against Donegal in the Ulster first round in Ballybofey last May.
He’s a different player to Penrose, more of an out and out forward rather than an auxiliary defender – a role played by the suspended Carrickmore player.
Joe McMahon is also, as expected, included after having to leave the field during the quarter-final against Monaghan with a hamstring pull. It will be Harte’s fifth All-Ireland senior semi-final as manager and he is currently in credit by three to one, the only defeat inflicted by Cork four years ago.
Mayo for their part are unchanged for the match. The Connacht champions, who have been absolutely dominant in their matches to date, leave goalkeeper Robert Hennelly between the posts, a position to which he returned only because of injury to both of the panel’s first choice goalkeepers, David Clarke and Kenneth O’Malley.
James Horan also includes Aidan O’Shea, man of the match in the quarter-final demolition of defending champions Donegal, but around whom there have been rumours of injury, which have been strenuously denied and at this stage few doubt that he will play a full role.
Keith Higgins is retained in the sweeper role, lining out at centre forward in the selection, but expected to drop back as he did to great effect against Donegal.
Among the Tyrone players for whom the semi-final is a new experienced is half forward Mark Donnelly, who despite being 29 is only on the panel since 2010. He recounted how manager Mickey Harte helped him to step up to the top level.
“I worked very hard on my game. When I came onto the Tyrone panel I did a lot of strength and conditioning and that helped me, while playing with county players brings you on as a player, taking advice from fellas who had been there and done that. So you take on board their advice and taking tips from Mickey on how to improve my game – all that helped.
“One of the aspects I have aimed to improve on is my tackling because the game has changed drastically since I started out as a corner -forward, the major job back then was scoring and there was not much talk about defending but of course now defending is every bit as important as forward play. It has become a very important part of the game.
“Work-rate is another big thing I have worked on, getting fitter each year, doing more work in the off season to make sure that I get fitter each year.”
With so many talented under-age players emerging in the county Donnelly felt that his chance of making the panel in his mid-20s was receding.
“Och, I suppose I did, yeah. I headed off to Australia in ‘07 and I thought my chance was gone.
“I am only focused now on the here and now and aiming to get to my first All-Ireland final. I was there at the three finals, ’03, ’05 and ’08. I was there as a supporter.”
His own role on the team has evolved to the point that he is in typical Tyrone style capable of playing anywhere and this year he has developed the deeper-lying instincts of the modern half forward.
“I suppose every year is different. In 2010 I was playing as an inside full-forward, last year I was playing out on the 40, this year I have been playing deeper.
“The lesson we learned from Donegal is that you have to avoid conceding goals and the forward line is having to defend deeper but whatever role you are given on the team, you have to do that because it is a team game and everyone has a particular role. I am filling my role which hopefully will get us over the line.”
TYRONE (SFC v Mayo): P McConnell; R McKenna, C Clarke, C McCarron; C McGinley, P Harte, C Gormley; C Cavanagh, S Cavanagh; Matthew Donnelly, Mark Donnelly, J McMahon; D McCurry, S O’Neill, C McAliskey. Subs: M O’Neill, D Carlin, A Cassidy, K Coney, K Gallagher, C Grugan, P Kane, J Lafferty, D McBride, T McCann, A McCrory.
MAYO: R Hennelly; T Cunniffe, G Cafferkey, C Barrett; L Keegan, D Vaughan, C Boyle; A O’Shea, S O’Shea; K McLoughlin, K Higgins, A Dillon; C O’Connor, A Freeman, A Moran.
WEXFORD (U21HC v Antrim): B Murphy; G Foley, C Goff, E Conroy; Andrew Kenny, S O’Gorman, D O’Leary; L Chin, Aaron Kenny; J Guiney, I Byrne, G Moore; C McDonald, B Carton, R Clarke.