Sports

McConnell wary of Down threat

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

THE excitement is building ahead of the Ulster final, as Tyrone and Down prepare to meet in the Anglo-Celt Cup showpiece for the first time since 2003.

Fourteen years ago, the sides finished level in a thriller, with the Red Hands winning the replay before going on to win the first of three All-Ireland titles.

A Mourne revival, which included a shock semi-final win over Monaghan has set up an unlikely decider, and former Tyrone goalkeeper Pascal McConnell has warned that the men in red and black must be feared.

 "They'll go into the final with nothing to lose and that will suit them down to the ground, they'll use it as a motivational tool, the fact that Tyrone will be favourites," said McConnell, who played in the 2003 replay and won three All-Ireland medals.

"And you have to be very, very wary of a team like that. They're going to fire everything that they have at Tyrone, everything that they possibly can.

"Down are one of the top counties in Ulster, we all know the quality that their colleges produce, we know the brand of football that they play, and we all know that they can cause an upset on any given day, even when things aren't going that well.

"In many ways, it's a little bit surprising that Down have come through to reach a final, given the difficulties they have had over the past couple of seasons.

"But we know what Down football is capable of and what they have done in the past, coming from nowhere to win All-Irelands.

"Caolan Mooney is a flying machine when he gets the space opened up in front of him, and there's going to be lots of space in Clones.

"Tyrone will look to make that as compact as possible and to limit the space for him.

"Kevin McKernan brings loads of experience, a fantastic footballer and one of the finest in Ulster football, in my eyes.

"And then you have the Johnston lads and Harrison up front, so they have plenty of threats, and plenty for Tyrone to cope with."

McConnell warned that the Red Hands must be fully focused on the task in hand at Clones on July 16.

"Guarding against complacency is going to be important for Tyrone, and in a relatively young team, complacency can easily filter in.

"It's going to be a very interesting final, and one to look forward to."

Meanwhile, one of the heroes of Down's shock win over Monaghan, Connaire Harrison, is a major doubt for the Ulster final.

The burly full forward tormented the Farney defence, and Drew Wylie in particular, as the Mourne men pulled off a sensational two points victory at the Athletic Grounds.

But he picked up a hamstring injury in the closing stages, and is in a race against time to be fit to face the Red Hands.

Playmaker Conor Maginn is nevertheless confident that Down can make it a real battle for the reigning provincial champions.

"We've been training for these days. We're definitely going to enjoy it and how we've to take on Tyrone who are All-Ireland contenders," he said.

"They were very impressive against Donegal. We'll analyse them a bit deeper, but on the surface, they're an incredible team and Mickey Harte has them churning it out every year.

"Everybody knows it's a massive challenge but this is what we've been playing for."

Maginn said team spirit is soaring, and the squad is united as they approach the big day.

"There's a great camaraderie around the squad this year, maybe the run of losses bonded us, and it got better when we started getting over the line.

"I suppose the Derry game was important because that's when we finally put a performance together and since then we've gradually got better.

"There's more confidence and more bite in training. The negativity that was coming on top of us definitely had a galvanised effect on us, but the Derry match was the turning point.

"Going into the Monaghan match, I honestly have to say we were confident. Obviously Monaghan are in the top five or six teams in the country and it was a massive challenge, but we knew things were coming together well and we had a bit of confidence about ourselves."

He added: "While the last few years haven't been good, we still hold ourselves in high esteem. We knew the players were as good as anyone and while we haven't always shown it, just look at the boys we're bringing on - Mark Poland, Donal O'Hare, David McKibbin - they're coming on and winning us matches."

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