With both teams having secured their Division 1 status last week, there was a notable drop in the intensity this rivalry was known for. Kerry produced another Jekyll and Hyde performance, going three points up on five occasions in the first half before trailing, 0-11 to 0-10, at the break. They never looked like adding to their goal count of three for this campaign, half last year’s tally. Declan McClure’s 67th-minute goal was the 10th they conceded this spring.
Such statistics can be expected when Éamonn Fitzmaurice has been trialling so many young players and has been without seasoned men such as Kieran Donaghy, who lined out for Austin Stacks yesterday in the county league.
Scoreless streaks have also been part and parcel of this defence of their Division 1 title and here they went without one from the 44th minute until the first minute of additional time. By that stage, Tyrone were seven points clear and thinking about Monaghan, who visit Omagh in May.
Mickey Harte was pleased with how his team grew into the game as much as they developed during the league after suffering three defeats in their first four matches. “It was a bit of role-reversal from last year when we started strong and finished poorly. I suppose that’s not a bad thing to be able to turn it around. After four games we only had two points and it was dicey looking.
“The Donegal win was so important, Mayo was excellent and I suppose a lot of people were telling us it was a long time since we beat Kerry and it is nice to put the record straight any day of the week. I am very pleased with the outcome.
“We have to defend stoutly and attack at pace and have the runners coming off the shoulders. This thing that you have to have x amount of forwards up the field at any one time, it is a bit dated. It’s not about how many you have up at all times, it’s about how many you have up when you need them.”
Fitzmaurice cited the period before half-time, when Tyrone sent over four unanswered points, and that barren spell starting nine minutes into the second half as the decisive moments.
“We were playing a lot of good football in the first 25 minutes but we then went in a half-time a point down. We got the first point of the second half but then we, I don’t know why, were a small bit rudderless while Tyrone played very well. We were a bit lucky not to be beaten by more. There is plenty there for us to be working on.”
Kerry know they will have to improve discipline having given far too many frees. And while Brian Kelly’s kickouts worked well early on, Tyrone pressed up and profited on occasions thereafter.
Some of their shooting in the first half was exemplary, Johnny Buckley, in a full-forward role, sending over a peach in the 26th minute and Micheál Burns followed four minutes later with another beauty.
But that’s as good as it got for the visitors. Tyrone reeled them in to take a lead before the break. Kerry did level up twice early in the second half but they began to run out of steam. When Conor Meyler was brought down in the penalty area in the 57th minute, they looked goosed. However, Ronan O’Neill flashed his strike wide.
The let-off was only temporary for Kerry as McClune palmed the ball to the net 10 minutes later after he was set up by Peter Harte.
And so what started badly for Tyrone ended brightly and Harte had more reason to bite back at the side’s detractors. “Sometimes people jump to conclusions too early, whether it be good or bad, and sometimes they have you as a world beater when you’re not in a position to accept that term. Other times they have you as a no-hoper when that’s not right either, so I think more balance is required when people are reporting and viewing things.
“And when that balance is there, then people should be able to interpret what’s a work in progress, and what’s a team that’s struggling. And I think that should help people to take a deep breath before they come out with a very definitive analysis of where any team’s at.”
L. Brennan (0-5, 4 frees); R O’Neill (frees), C. McShane (0-3 each); D. McClure (1-1); C. McCann, M. Donnelly, K. McGeary, N. Morgan (free) (0-1 each).
K. Spillane (0-5, frees); S. O’Brien. J. Buckley (0-2 each); C. Coffey, D. Casey, M. Geaney, M. Burns, M. Flaherty (0-1 each).
N. Morgan; A. McCrory, R. McNamee, C. McCarron; R. McNabb, F. Burns, R. Brennan; C. McShane, D. McClure; M. Donnelly (c), P. Harte, C. McCann; L. Brennan, R. O’Neill, K. McGeary.
D. Mulgrew for K. McGeary (53); C. Meyler for C. McCann (55); P. Hampsey for A. McCrory (temp, 58); C. McAliskey for C. Meyler (inj 61); M. McKernan for R. Brennan (63); B. McDonnell for R. O’Neill (69); B. Burns for F. Burns (70+1).
B. Kelly; B. Ó Beaglaoich, T. O’Sullivan, J. Foley; M. Griffin, C. Coffey, M. Geaney; J. Barry, D. Moran; M. Burns, D. Casey, K. McCarthy; K. Spillane, J. Buckley (c), S. O’Brien.
T. Morley for M. Geaney, E. Ó Conchúir for M. Burns (both h-t); B. O’Sullivan for D. Casey (58); G. Horan for D. Moran, M. Flaherty for J. Buckley (both 69).
M. Deegan (Laois).