IT’S 22 MONTHS since Kerry mounted the second-half fightback that took down Tyrone by three points in an All-Ireland semi-final in Croke Park.
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Source: James Crombie/INPHO
It’s 16 months since Tyrone held off Kerry by a point to win a league encounter in Edendork.
A pair of tight contests. A success for each side. The background as they approached yesterday’s meeting in Killarney.
How then to explain the 16-point hammering that Kerry handed out in the latest clash? How do you account for the six goals that Kerry posted? How much value can be placed on it, with the summer examinations in mind?
Kerry knew that winning this league semi-final would not propel them towards a final, a strange quirk of the 2021 GAA schedule. But you wouldn’t have known that by the manner in which they started the game, sharp and enthusiastic, rampaging forward at will as they sliced apart the Tyrone defence.
Three goals registered by the first water break, five on the board by half-time and a sixth added for good measure towards the end by substitute Jack Barry. The identity of the goalscorers – Clifford, White, Moynihan and Geaney – reaffirmed again the attacking riches at Kerry’s disposal, while Sean O’Shea was outstanding in directing the forward line traffic.
Further back, it was hard to digest much from Kerry’s performance. Beaufort’s Mike Breen does look another bright prospect off their All-Ireland minor winning productions. Kieran Fitzgibbon is in command of the number one jersey after another solid outing. Jason Foley took the man-of-the-match award for his full-back performance.
Kerry’s league campaign ends with them handing out another hammering on home soil. That speaks of a team playing with a temper and frustration, generated from the long and painful inquest they endured after their exit last winter.
Their brilliant scoring capacity up front, the element of uncertainty in defence, the question marks over where to fit all their pieces into the starting team, those areas of debate all remain around Kerry.
Kerry’s Mike Breen and Tyrone’s Conor Meyler.
Source: James Crombie/INPHO
But yesterday they looked like a team who are stepping it up, two weeks out from their Munster quarter-final. They may be strong favourites for that game yet Clare are one of the most progressive sides in the country.
And if 2020 taught Kerry anything, it is the danger of not hitting full speed from the off in a knockout championship. Yesterday’s display reflected a necessary sharpness for their last run-out a fortnight before they take on Clare.
In contrast Tyrone have more time. It’s four weeks until they have their Ulster championship opener, playing in Omagh against the kingpins Cavan. The news of their relegation to Division 4 had filtered through before throw-in at Fitzgerald Stadium, Tyrone joint manager Brian Dooher dimissed the thought afterwards that Cavan will be damaged by that loss.
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The lack of defensive resistance in this game was striking and begged the question as to where their interest levels truly lay. Leaking five goals in the first half was a glaring statistic but it was also instructive to reflect on the first-half openings Kerry did not convert. David Clifford fisted an early chance wide, O’Shea had to settle for a point on another occasion, Paudie Clifford was crowded out after a strong run and Stephen O’Brien saw a handpass close to goal just elude the intended target. Tyrone’s defending was surprisingly passive, which permitted Kerry to pour forward with such frequency.
They did pick off some nice scores, Kieran McGeary’s point-taking was excellent. But the costliest aspect of their long away trip, could be the extended loss of Darragh Canavan. The highly-promising forward was wheeled off with an ankle problem after ten minutes and he limped out of the stadium afterwards on crutches, his left footed covered in a protective boot. On a day where form was difficult to read, that may be the key outcome with the wider season picture in mind.
League done, get set for championship. The bigger tests and more significant days of judgement await. Kerry back out in two weeks, Tyrone return in four. We will see how they fare.
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