ALL IRELAND SENIOR FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHP SEMI-FINAL
Even in defeat, the fact remains this is what Kerry needed. This is what Kerry wanted. A test. A real examination of their credentials after a season where everything came a little too easy. A garlanded run through the National League and the Munster championship left the Kingdom ill-prepared from the whirlwind, which swept them aside in Croke Park on Saturday evening. Tyrone, that’s what they’ll do to you.
Nothing ever came easy against Brian Dooher as a player and, despite the mirage of what happened in Fitzgerald Stadium earlier this season, nothing comes easy against a side moulded in his – and co-manager Feargal Logan’s – image. The Red Hand were simply ravenous and, while far from flawless, they played with an energy and a determination that Kerry sometimes lacked.
Most of all Tyrone played with a kind of urgency that Kerry could only muster in fits and starts. Had Kerry managed to come through the storm with their championship ambitions in tact, you might have seen that as a positive thing, that ability to raise it when the need is greatest, but all too often Kerry were far too passive for their own good.
Tyrone were the ones making the weather. Kerry were reactive not proactive and that more than anything is why they’re out of this year’s championship. Of course, it didn’t help that they’d not played a game in five weeks, of course all the messing around and uncertainty surrounding this game didn’t help, and it certainly didn’t help to lose David Clifford for extra-time, but still this performance can’t be considered anything other than a disappointment.
Most of all, by the way, for the players themselves. You could see it in them as they stood ashen-faced at the full-time whistle, victims of an ambush we really should have seen coming, and even if we didn’t see it coming before the match – imagining Tyrone’s Covid issues would have had them on the back foot – we should have realised early on what kind of day this was going to be.
Any early doubts about whether nor not the Red Hand men would be in a position to challenge the Kingdom were soon enough put to bed, even after Kerry started much the brighter with a pair of David Clifford points – one from play, one from a mark – and an outside goal chance for Seán O’Shea, well smothered by Tyrone’s Michael O’Neill in an early signal that Tyrone were going to battle all the way.
Despite Kerry’s dominance on primary possession Tyrone soon got themselves in front with three on the spin from Niall Morgan (with a free), Mattie Donnelly (with a mark) and Peter Harte from play before David Clifford, revelling in the contest, slipped a ball under duress to O’Shea who slotted home expertly into the Hill 16.
Tyrone, though, had a quite visible edge in the game and by the first water break were back in front with a pair of points from their corner-back Micahel McKernan and full-back Ronan McNamee – at the end of a brilliant run by the Tyrone number 3 – fired them two clear, before an O’Shea free (for a foul on Stephen O’Brien) brought it back to a single point game at the water break, 0-4 to 0-5.
A brilliant Kerry score just after seemed to suggest a Kerry team clicking into gear with Paul Murphy and O’Shea combining before a brilliant Clifford finish. The Kingdom even fashioned a second goal-scoring opportunity with Stephen O’Brien caught just inside the square for a free out. Instead of a goal down one end, we ended up with one down the other with Peter Harte and Niall Sludden combining straight down the middle for Conor McKenna to slot home. Cat very much amongst the pigeons now.
Kerry rallied well to bring it back level into time added on before a final monster free from Niall Morgan gave Tyrone a lead into the break, 0-9 to 1-7. The least Tyrone deserved and, yet, at the time one would have felt Kerry would have been the happier side with the breeze into the Canal End to come for the second half and the chance to regroup.
Instead the pattern of the game remained largely unchanged with Tyrone clearly – although not necessarily decisively and on the scoreboard – in the ascendancy and Kerry hanging on in there, drawing level, even pulling clear by the second water break (0-14 to 1-10), helped in no small part by a black card for Niall Sludden for hauling down Paul Murphy, but never really in a position to stamp their authority on the occasion or the opposition.
Indeed, the extent of Kerry’s dependence on David Clifford was pronounced as it wasn’t until the 45th minute that somebody other than Clifford and O’Shea got on the scoreboard, with Paudie Clifford slotting over a sweet point. Tyrone never wavered throughout it all, never showed much signs of fatigue. As it happened Kerry looked much the flatter side in the final quarter, a point underlined early on with a point by McCurry.
Not even a second Tyrone black card, this time for Conor McKenna really did much to help kick-start the Kingdom’s challenge. True enough Kerry could have had a goal on sixty six minutes when O’Shea squared for Clifford to try and fist home. Morgan managed to get a fist to it and Clifford, tellingly, picked up the injury which saw him withdrawn from the action in extra-time. Tom O’Sullivan’s point to send Kerry two clear – 0-15 to 1-10 – having claimed a break from Morgan, in hindsight, paltry compensation for the loss of Clifford.
A second Tyrone goal two minutes later, from second half substitute Cathal McShane – finishing on the rebound following a Shane Ryan save from Darragh Canavan – looked to have decisively turned the game, but to be fair to Kerry despite what was a fairly listless display they roused themselves twice to come back from the brink. First time when a clearly struggling Clifford won a free for O’Shea to point.
And then again in response to a brilliant McCurry score O’Shea won a free for Clifford to point. The Kingdom even had a chance to win it late on, but Paudie Clifford’s fisted effort drifted wide –0-17 to 2-11 at full-time and Kerry, frankly, lucky enough to still be in the game. Extra-time offered hope, as the side which hadn’t suffered through a Covid crisis they ought to have more in the tanks. Instead Tyrone took the game by the scruff of the neck hitting 1-2 inside the opening five minutes of the first half of extra-time.
The goal, of course, was born of serious misfortune when a Kieran McGeary effort for a point, destined to go wide, was kept alive by Jack Barry. The ball found its way to McKenna who struck venomously to the bottom right hand corner. In that moment Tyrone went from possible winners to probable winners, five clear with fifteen to go against a Kerry side without their talisman – 0-17 to 3-12.
Kerry did rally to half-time outscoring Tyrone three points to one – Paul Murphy and Diarmuid O’Connor’s points from play giving Kerry hope again – and with only three in it at that stage, 0-20 to 3-14, there was still hope. Hope that only grew further following a second Paudie Clifford point and a Killian Spillane assisted Paul Geaney, but try as Kerry might, they couldn’t break down Tyrone, who played a dangerous game of keep-ball at times.
One last gasp effort from Tommy Walsh which scuffed wide seemed to sum up the Kingdom’s day. Just a little off, a little tired and lacking any of the zip and élan that defined their through Munster and the National League. s
KERRY: Shane Ryan, Brian Ó Beaglaoich, Jason Foley, Tom O’Sullivan (0-1), Mike Breen, Paul Murphy (0-1), Gavin White, David Moran, Jack Barry, Diarmuid O’Connor, Seán O’Shea (0-8, 6f, 1 ‘45), Stephen O’Brien, David Clifford (0-8, 2f, 2m), Paul Geaney (0-1), Paudie Clifford (0-2) Subs: Killian Spillane for D Moynihan, half-time, Adrian Spillane for P Geaney, 54, Diarmuid O’Connor (0-1) for S O’Brien, 54, Tommy Walsh for D Moran, 58, P Geaney for D Clifford (inj), full-time, Tadhg Morley for B Ó Beaglaoich, full-time, Jack Sherwood for J Barry, 77, Graham O’Sullivan for J Foley, half-time in extra-time, Micheál Burns for T O’Sullivan, 86
TYRONE: Niall Morgan (0-2, 1f, 1 ‘45), Michael McKernan (0-1), Ronan McNamee (0-1), Pádraig Hampsey (0-1), Tiernan McCann, Kieran McGeary, Peter Harte (0-1), Brian Kennedy, Colm Kilpatrick, Conor Meyler, Michael O’Neill, Niall Sludden, Darren McCurry (0-4, 2f), Mattie Donnelly (0-1m), Conor McKenna (2-0) Subs: Cathal McShane (1-3, 1f) for B Kennedy, 43, Tiernan McCann for M O’Neill, 54, Darragh Canavan for N Sludden, 64, Ben McDonnell for Conn Kilpatrick, 72 Liam Raftery for P Harte, 75, Blood: Ben McDonnell for T McCann, 64-67 Black Cards: Niall Sludden, 39, Conor McKenna, 58, Ben McDonnell 90
REFEREE: David Coldrick (Meath)