The suspicion that the modern inter-county player is a joyless soul with an unhealthy preference for protein shakes over pints, is deep-rooted in our psyche now.
Joe Brolly labelled this generation as “slaves” locked inside excessive training regimes and the lazy perception is that players either don’t know how to, or just don’t want to, have any fun any more.
Even Mickey Harte admitted recently he sleeps easier these days, knowing his current bunch of footballers are not out misbehaving in the wee small hours, but Connor McAliskey is happy to shatter the myth that it’s all work and no play: “Nobody has handcuffed me to Garvaghey!”
“If I didn’t want to be here, I wouldn’t be here,” he said.
“I would just tell Mickey ‘I don’t want to play for Tyrone’ and I would go off and do whatever I wanted to do with my life. But I know it’s the same for the 36 other players here — they want to be here.
“We aren’t pressurised to be a Tyrone county footballer. You don’t have to and you don’t have people telling you that you have to do it. It is not a job.
“I have my own job and if I didn’t want to come to training after work, I wouldn’t come to training after work. I can think of 100 different ways I could spend my Tuesday nights, but I want to be here training with Tyrone.
“A lot of people think that it is really taking its toll on players. But those saying it are not the boys playing it or giving up their time.”
Tyrone’s three-time All- Ireland winning legend Brian McGuigan recently questioned whether the joy has gone out of being an inter-county footballer.
The Ardboe playmaker lauded the importance of socialising for team bondings, and fears Tyrone aren’t doing enough of it.
Yet McAliskey has no problem admitting the team partied hard after winning the Ulster title three weeks ago. Beating Donegal in the decider to win the county’s first Anglo Celt Cup in six years was worthy of a celebration, so the team headed to Omagh and continued the party into the Monday.
“As a team, after every big game, we celebrate. You talk to people and they were saying after the Ulster final that we went to an ice bath to get ready for the quarter-final. But we took a couple of days off, we went for a few (drinks).
“After every championship game you might have three or four weeks until the next game, so the boys enjoy themselves. We usually work between Omagh and Dungannon. Everybody goes out; you are a team, you win as a team, you celebrate as a team.”
When he hears some of the rumours about players’ boring post-match routines, McAliskey feels like he’s living in some sort of parallel universe and doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
“I don’t know where the boys are getting their information from. I think people are making it up! You hear things like ‘Connor McAliskey has won an Ulster title and he is away to the ice-bath.’ I mean, that’s not what’s happening. It is put out there in the media that people are not enjoying their lives.
“It’s like someone is making up a fictional story about other people’s lives.”
So, it’s official. Players aren’t boring, and McAliskey isn’t superstitious either.
Today he and Tyrone will play a first championship match in Croke Park since last year’s All-Ireland semi-final defeat by Kerry.
The Clonoe forward went for glory in the first half, failing to spot the unmarked Darren McCurry inside him, and a glorious goal chance was missed. He still gets asked about it.
McAliskey, Ronan O’Neill, and Darren McCurry still live in the shadow of Tyrone greats Peter Canavan, Owen Mulligan, and Stephen O’Neill, but the trio have a great age profile and the signs are they are coming of age, McAliskey nailing a superb breakaway goal in the Ulster semi-final win over Cavan.
And he will remember the good days as he runs out at Croke Park for today’s All-Ireland quarter-final against Mayo.
“I know now looking back on the Kerry game that there are things I can improve on,” he admitted. “But for me going into this game, I will probably be looking at the Cavan (Division Two) league final. I kicked five points from play.
“I will look at the positives, the positive things that happened. I don’t think it is good for your mentality to dwell on the things you should have done.
“The team usually performs well in Croke Park. I will be looking at the last day, Croke Park, five points from play and I performed well, and I will help the team get the right result.”
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