Kerry v Tyrone preview: Can Tyrone bridge the gulf in footballing class?

Kerry v Tyrone preview: Can Tyrone bridge the gulf in footballing class?

By Peter McNamara

All-Ireland SFC semi-final

Kerry v Tyrone

3.30pm, Sunday, Croke Park

Live on RTÉ and Sky Sports

Virtually every preview piece on this Kerry-Tyrone All-Ireland SFC semi-final at Croke Park will reminisce of collisions past between these counties.

However, if we instead focus on Championship 2015 to assess how this last-four encounter will actually play out, stripping away all of the tensions that existed previously when the Kingdom and the Red Hand clashed, the gulf in footballing class between these groups is more obvious.

Tyrone are a good side, a damn good side at that.

Kerry v Tyrone preview: Can Tyrone bridge the gulf in footballing class?

Mickey Harte and his backroom team have successfully devised a way in which the marriage between their defence and attack has blossomed this season.

Peter Harte, in particular, has been central to this development with the Errigal Ciarán player representing the ideal link-man even more so than in previous seasons in the role.

Their defensive statistics are there for all to see too – Tyrone have conceded just 1-67 in six Championship outings and in their last five contests have not coughed up a goal.

Furthermore, the northerners have recorded scoring tallies such as 0-19, 0-21 and 0-18 in their three most-recent matches in this campaign.

Kerry v Tyrone preview: Can Tyrone bridge the gulf in footballing class?

Overall, Darren McCurry (1-21) and Connor McAliskey (0-21) have alleviated the scoring burden from the evergreen Seán Cavanagh too.

Yet, Harte does not possess the array of qualities Éamonn Fitzmaurice can call upon and therein should lie the difference at headquarters on Sunday.

All over the field Kerry ooze levels of footballing craft all others can only dream of including Tyrone.

Multiple All-Ireland winners will adorn Croker once again for the Kingdom and it is expected one of their more experienced attackers will be the focal point of all that should be good about Kerry offensively.

Gasps, followed by applause, rang out around Croke Park the majority of times Colm Cooper gained possession as the defending All-Ireland champions dismantled Kildare in the quarter-final.

The Gooch reminded those that hilariously questioned his capacity to remain at the top of his game he was still very much around by producing exhibition-like football on Jones’ Road.

Relentlessly tormenting the Lilywhites, it almost seemed as if Cooper was playing with a point to prove.

Given that was his second start of Championship 2015 he should tog even better this weekend, especially factoring in how the opposition tends to focus his mind – Cooper is noted for performing well against Tyrone. Ditto Kieran Donaghy.

With David Moran and Anthony Maher at midfield, there should be a plentiful supply of key possessions on which the Dr Croke’s clubman tends to thrive.

Colm Cavanagh will obviously be a major factor in the middle-third too but his tendency to drift back to act as a fourth half-back could mean there is greater scope for Moran and Maher to exert their authority.

Tyrone’s intensity in their last-eight meeting with Monaghan was obvious but they will need a similar performance and then some if Harte’s side are to overcome Kerry.

And even if the northerners produce an even more sterling showing Fitzmaurice’s charges are not for crumbling in the face of heightened pressure.

That might have been the case in the noughties, at times, when the likes of the Armagh and Tyrone vintages troubled them but not now.

The opening 10 minutes of the first-half is due to be manic and Tyrone will swarm around every Kerry player in possession.

Nevertheless, if there is one team capable of maximising the potential of the free men that are therefore left idle it is the Munster champions.

James O’Donoghue, of course, has been named to start by Fitzmaurice but it may be that Paul Geaney or Darran O’Sullivan take his place before the off.

Certainly, it would not surprise us if this happened.

However, Cooper and Donaghy should propel Kerry into another September decider with relative comfort.

Key men: Colm Cooper/Kieran Donaghy.

Verdict: Kerry

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