Football giants had X-Factor
By Dick Clerkin
Saturday evening’s encounter between Tyrone and Kerry meant many things to many people.
Revenge, posterity, pride, honour, all lingered around the terraces.
In pure football terms, Fitzgerald Stadium played host to the remnants of two of the greatest teams of all time. I say remnants, because many of the main protagonists that featured in this rolling rivalry have since left the stage. What remains are still two excellent teams, but as they would admit themselves, they are a far cry from those who dominated throughout the last decade.
When football historians look back on both sides, they will be ranked up there as high as any.
The majority of my career has coincided with their reign.
In league and Championship, I’ve played Tyrone on seven occasions — with only a solitary league win in 2010. I lost to the Kingdom four times between League and Championship, leaving them the only team in Ireland that Monaghan did not beat on our travels over the past 10 or so years.
Many of those games were decided by the slimmest of margins, and by in large we competed very well against them. Yet when all is said and done, we will have to admit that they were both just too good for us. Obviously the two narrow defeats in 2007 will be looked as the ones that got away.
Tyrone were there for the taking, but a combination of naivety and inexperience gave them a seven point head start that couldn’t be hauled back.
A similar lack of craft handicapped us against Kerry in our All-Ireland quarter-final meeting. I’ve no doubt a win in either of these games would have propelled us towards greater things over the following years... C’est la vie.
Truthfully, those moral victories proved to be more of a hindrance than anything. Instead of asking the hard questions as to why we lost, we patted ourselves on the back for getting so close. The potential was there to beat these teams in Championship football. We were just missing the key ingredient: the ‘X-Factor’ that separates the good from the great teams.
The ability to win playing poorly, but also knowing how to edge out tight games, are traits that both Kerry and Tyrone displayed in abundance over these years.
On top of that, you can add lashings and lashings of ruthlessness and cynicism. Nice guys finish last, and neither side suffered fools in this regard. While many of these players are absolute gentlemen off the field, I can tell you, they are the exact opposite on it. Not one to be shining a halo or anything, many of my darker moments came in games against these two teams. Every time we went out against these lads we had to fight tooth and nail for any degree of possession or parity. When entering the lion’s den you have to be prepared to do whatever it takes to survive!
One thing that many commentators overlooked when analysing both Kerry and Tyrone was the level of physicality and aggression they brought to their game. Blinkered by their undoubted quality they were rarely described as physical or cynical teams, labels that were thrust upon us at every turn.
While both were equally imposing, I enjoyed playing against Kerry more than Tyrone. Kerry would always allow you to go toe-to-toe with them, Tyrone possessed an amazing ability to beat you in ways that contradicted everything traditional Gaelic footballers know. Our defeat in the 2010 Ulster final was a prime example of this. Dominating the midfield exchange 60/40 and keeping their full forward line scoreless from play we still lost that game by 10 points. Who else would this happen against?
Tyrone’s 2005 side will go down as one of the greatest and complete teams of all time. Kerry’s 2007/8 crop were equally awesome. In 2008 Kerry were easily the best team in the country and their All-Ireland final defeat by Tyrone will surely be the one they regret the most.
Kerry beating Tyrone on home soil last Saturday night will give a large degree of solace to many of the Kerry players that suffered at the hands of Mickey Harte’s troops over the years. However they will equally realise that this was not the same Tyrone team they failed to master during the period of their respective dominance.
Yet, when all is said and done, both sets of players will look back with equal measures of respect, knowing their rivalry helped raise their standards to levels others couldn’t compete with. Home