#TheToughest Issue: Who’s going to win on Sunday, Kerry or Tyrone?
Barring a draw, the first of this year’s All-Ireland Finalists will be determined this weekend. Who’s it going to be, Kerry or Tyrone?
Conor Heneghan says: Kerry
Kerry people seem to be increasingly apprehensive about the Tyrone game the closer it gets to Sunday but if I were a Kerry fan I’d be happy enough this week.
The unease is based on the amount of criticism Tyrone have faced in the wake of the Tiernan McCann saga and their fairly cynical approach to beating Monaghan a couple of weeks back.
As a result, the theory goes, Tyrone will develop the type of siege mentality that suits the Red Handers better than any other team in the country and that Kerry are going to be the ones to bear the brunt of it.
It is a theme that has been visited in virtually every preview I have read of the game to date and the cynics will suggest that it’s a deliberate tactic on the part of the large contingent of ex-Kerry players currently working in the media.
Keep talking up Tyrone and then watch with a wry smile as the Kingdom go about doing what they do better than anyone else: winning.
Tyrone will go into Sunday’s game fully believing they’ll win but they’re going to need to come with far more than a siege mentality if they’re going to do it.
Since 2000, Kerry have been in 13 All-Ireland semi-finals and have won all but three of them - Meath (2001) Tyrone (2003) and Dublin (2013).
When they get to this stage, no county has a greater ability to seal the deal than Kerry do and the current outfit look well-equipped to ensure it’ll be business as usual.
Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s side are, of course, the reigning All-Ireland Champions and any signs of vulnerability (detected by myself amongst others) in the drawn Munster Final against Cork appear to have disappeared.
The cobwebs were blown off in the replay and in the quarter-final against Kildare, they decided to light them on fire and do a little dance around them afterwards.
The Lilywhites were awful but be under no illusions as to the quality of the Kerry display.
Up front, the Gooch’s return was a seamless one, the early loss of James O’Donoghue was rendered irrelevant and a man that might have previously been regarded as a weak link, Stephen O’Brien, showed that he can kick goals and points as good as the rest of them when the mood takes him.
Kerry are deemed to be weakest at the back but after being a mess at times the first day out against Cork, they have looked structurally sound since. Marc Ó’Sé is having a great season and Shane Enright is in All-Star form in the full-back line, while the return of Rathmore duo Aidan O’Mahony and Paul Murphy has tightened them up significantly.
The foundation of Kerry’s dominance, however, has been their midfield.
The exclusion of Anthony Maher for the Munster Final is beginning to look more baffling due to his sustained excellence since his return, while David Moran is a lot of people’s choice as the Player of the Year so far.
Fit as a fiddle, an excellent fielder and with a kick-pass to die for, Moran has been a joy to watch.
And then there's the bench. Darran O'Sullivan did all in his power against Kildare to convince that he's worthy of a starting spot, Paul Galvin and Tommy Walsh made small cameos and Kieran Donaghy didn't even get out of his tracksuit top. Ominous.
The hoodoo that Tyrone seemed to have on Kerry during the noughties will be cited as a reason for optimism for Mickey Harte’s side but this is different.
The Tyrone teams that defeated Kerry in two All-Ireland Finals and a semi-final will go down as some of the greatest the game has ever seen. Sure, they were as determined, as fierce and as hard to beat as the current outfit are, but boy could they play ball when wanted to.
To paraphrase a famous Kieran McGeeney quote, if you said you wanted to box then they’d box, if you said you wanted to play football then they’d play football.
There is a lot to admire about Mickey Harte’s current side.
They have defenders that must be an absolute nightmare to mark. They’re streetwise.
They play a running game that suits the likes of Mattie Donnelly, Peter Harte and the aforementioned McCann and in the likes of Darren McCurry, Mark Bradley, Conor McAliskey and the great Sean Cavanagh, they’ve plenty of finishers too.
But they’re not near the level of the great Tyrone teams and they’re not on Kerry’s level either, at least not yet.
Niall Morgan’s kickouts were a crucial factor in Tyrone beating Monaghan but Kerry will push right up in an effort to get him to kick long and if he has to, then you’d fancy Moran and Maher to win the midfield battle every day of the week.
Tyrone have momentum, they’ve some outstanding individual players and they’re certainly dangerous, but no matter which way I look at this one, I just can’t see anything but a Kerry win and to me, the odds on a victory for the All-Ireland Champions at 3/10 look just about right.
Kerry to win by five or six points.
Conán Doherty says: Tyrone
God, this seems awfully familiar.
Tyrone, under the radar. Kerry, bigger fish to fry.
Tyrone with a meanness and aggression and the best defensive structure remaining in the tournament. Kerry with the talent and history and the odds in their favour.
This seems awfully familiar indeed.
Perhaps the biggest shame about the whole Tiernan McCann saga was that Tyrone's footballing brilliance went unnoticed - even by some of the Red Hands supporters themselves who were so consumed with protecting their wing forward's reputation that they failed to dissociate the performance and the antics.
It's a shame that we didn't get to marvel at their structure, their application and how they scaled the length of the field 18 times to raise white flags against Monaghan off the back of lung-bursting runs.
It's a shame that Mickey Harte's rebirth with the O'Neill county - to come from relative obscurity to go and upset a damn fine Farney team - received little to no praise, largely because some were crediting that dive with the result. In reality, it had absolutely no bearing on the outcome of the game. It had nothing to do with a near perfect footballing performance.
Winnings all that matters. I'd dive like Tom Daley if it was called for.!!
— Kyle Coney (@kyleconey90) August 9, 2015
It's a shame but perhaps - just perhaps - it's almost ideal as far as Mickey Harte is concerned.
No-one is talking about their game. No-one even wants to look at it. We were lining up to take swipes at McCann and, even when that got boring, attention turned to the GAA's inadequacies and inconsistencies with a rule book.
Meanwhile, the finest performance of the last eight slipped under the net and Tyrone sneaked into the final four of the All-Ireland championship without so much as a thought about their team.
Speaking with Tomás Ó Sé at the weekend, he admitted that Kerry had underprepared for Tyrone way back in 2003. Tyrone weren't expected to beat that Kerry team, not from where they were coming from and not from where the Kingdom were.
12 years on, Sean Cavanagh still leads that same charge.
12 years on and Tyrone have crept into the last week of August off the back of relegation, off the back of a first round provincial exit and, now, with all the scorn of a nation sneering and hissing at them.
Jesus, it's almost like Mickey Harte has wrote the script again.
Player for player, Kerry have a better team than Tyrone. They probably did in '03 as well. But I'm not sure it really matters.
I don't see this unstoppable forward line that's going to help the Kingdom through the tight games. I see Kieran Donaghy on the bench. Colm Cooper still not right. James O'Donoghue injured and Tommy Walsh's return having thus far flattered to deceive.
I see a Kerry side having had one serious game in the build-up to August 23 and a team which we are still largely unsure of how they can cope with a blanket defence.
The All-Ireland final last year was the only time in championship football that Fitzmaurice has sampled that rearguard intensity but, at that, a goalkeeper's mistake separated the sides and they were in the comfortable position of having Donegal chase them for most of the game.
Tyrone have rediscovered that manic desire and hunger that has set them apart throughout the decade just passed. They have found the same steel and bite that made them a nightmare for teams like Kerry. Made them impossible for teams like Kerry.
No, they don't have the same forward line with six ridiculous options floating around it but they don't need that in modern day football. What they need is a defence, they need runners and they need team work. They have enough scoring power divided amongst them.
Tyrone don't need anything else than the tools at their disposal to compete today. And, if Kerry think for one second that the Red Hands are coming to the casino short changed, they will have their pants pulled around their ankles again.
Tyrone are ready for an ambush. They wrote the book on this sort of thing.
Kerry? Well, they just lend themselves to the fairytale. And here we are again.