They played nice at their respective press evenings but it’s hardly surprising that when two counties who share such a storied, chequered recent history meet, there are going to be unpalatable truths for both.
If this April’s Division 1 meeting in Omagh was the first time a person took in a Kerry-Tyrone game they would have argued Kerry were the team more au fait with the dark arts. The foul count read 29-14 against Kerry, a true reflection of how poor they were in tackling, at the same time how clever they were with some of their infringements - they picked up five yellow cards in the final 20 minutes. Stephen O’Brien was the only black carded player in the game but he could have been easily joined by the likes of David Moran and Darran O’Sullivan.
After the applause afforded to Mickey Harte after the 2012 qualifier in Killarney, it seemed the Kerry-Tyrone relationship had matured only for the latter’s secretary to have a dig at Kerry in his annual report. Dominic McCaughey wrote: “This game provided Kerry with the opportunity to exact revenge for defeats which many of its supporters and players had found it difficult to cope with. Before a massive attendance - for a qualifier - of over 24,000 patrons, the players in green and gold showed that they would not be accepting a fourth championship defeat by the Red Hand county.” He added: “When the final whistle sounded, Kerry had a 10-point winning margin that was greeted, amazingly, with tears of joy by some players and wild scenes of jubilation among highly vociferous supporters.” No sleeping dogs are ever left to lie when these counties meet.
Kerry won’t admit it publicly but it’s known that of the two teams they stood to play on Sunday the camp were more apprehensive about the prospect of facing Monaghan. It was felt Malachy O’Rourke’s side presented a different, more evolved challenge to what Tyrone will bring at the weekend. Since losing to Donegal in May, Tyrone have been playing to a script where they have started uber-conservatively. Against Kerry, they are likely to prolong that tactic. Monaghan too would have boxed clever but maybe asked other, more troublesome questions.
Up until the 2011 All-Ireland final, Dublin hadn’t beaten Kerry for 34 years in championship. Before 2010, they hadn’t got the better of them in Kerry for 28 years but neither fact stopped Kerry from describing the relationship as a rivalry. It’s on a different scale but the same word has been mentioned of their tussles with Tyrone even though you have to go back to 2010 for the last time Tyrone actually beat Kerry. Since then, Kerry have collected three wins, two of them coming in the league, and a draw.
Defending his team in the wake of what he described as a campaign to paint Kerry as cynical, Eamonn Fitzmaurice pointed out Kerry had no player sent off in this year’s National League. He also stated the fact Kerry had the worst defensive record in Division 1. That’s all well and good yet Kerry had the second highest number of black cards across the four division with six. If Kerry win Sunday and Paul Murphy picks up another black card, the Rathmore man would miss out on the All-Ireland final.
Before this year’s do-or-get- relegated Division 1 game, Tyrone corner-back Aidan McCrory unveiled his inner Kevin Keegan when he admitted they “would love to win and put them (Kerry) down”. He qualified that by saying Kerry would feel exactly the same and the feeling is most certainly mutual but in one sentence McCrory epitomised the sense of pleasure Tyrone derive from beating Kerry.
Walking out on Fitzgerald Stadium after the counties’ qualifier three years ago, we were party to the wonderful farewell provided to Mickey Harte by Kerry supporters. It was their first opportunity they had since the tragic death of his daughter Michaela to show their support for the three-time All- Ireland winning manager. Following a game where 16 yellow cards and a red card were shown, the heart-warming moment couldn’t have been in contrast. We’ll never know but would the home fans have been so generous had they lost again to Tyrone? As so many have admitted since, the subsequent quarter-final defeat to Donegal took little gloss off finally getting one over Tyrone.
Thankfully, in the wake of their latest controversial All-Ireland quarter-final win over Monaghan, Tyrone chose not to release a leaflet highlighting facts portraying the team as more sinned against than sinners. That would have been so 2013. However, they would have every right to highlight how unfair Tiernan McCann has been treated. Yet those in the county suggesting there is some correlation in RTÉ between Mickey Harte’s long-standing issue with the broadcasters and the over-the-top criticism of them on The Sunday Game would be wide of the mark.
For all our talk about how McCann must watch his step should he play, it’s worth remembering it is Sunday’s referee Maurice Deegan who was hoodwinked by Aidan O’Mahony into sending off Donncha O’Connor in the drawn 2008 All-Ireland semi-final. He was also in charge when Tyrone beat Kerry in the following month’s final.
It was only in February 2013 former Tyrone star Brian McGuigan was telling Kerry to concentrate long term. He said: “Kerry need to forget about success or All-Irelands for the next six or seven years and instead just concentrate on getting their underage structures and development squads right. We all know Kerry pride themselves on their naturally gifted footballers but the modern game has such an emphasis on intensity and work rate, which means so much time needs to be spent on strength and conditioning.” McGuigan clearly didn’t understand the urgency of Fitzmaurice and Cian O’Neill nor the application of their players.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved