Spring back in Kerry step after proving a point against old foes

Defensive dominance key to success as Kingdom physicality turns tables on Tyrone, writes Paidi O Se

For nearly all of this game yesterday evening, I felt that Kerry had the measure of Tyrone. They were better equipped for the challenge and seemed intent on proving a point.

Last week there was plenty of hype about this rivalry, their recent encounters were recalled around the country and their history was even described as a war in some quarters.

There is undeniably a big rivalry between the two sides and the crowd of almost 25,000 reflected the interest in the game; however, a lot has changed in both teams since they met in the 2008 All-Ireland final.

Only four of the Tyrone team that started in Croke Park that September four years ago lined out when the ball was thrown in yesterday, while nine of the Kerry side remained. But when the game started in Fitzgerald Stadium it was immediately obvious that the changes in personnel had no effect on the intensity and tension that exists between the sides.

Initially it was tit for tat and the game took a while to settle and flow — the off-the-ball fisticuffs around the park didn’t help the situation. But when it settled, the Kerry defence dominated. They drove their team on and the physicality that I’d usually associate with Tyrone was in fact Kerry’s strong point in the first half. There was a freshness to their play and never once did it look like they were an aging side.

So strong were the back six that the first half was nearly over before any of Tyrone’s forwards scored. All around the field the match-ups seemed to suit Kerry, especially the Colm Cooper and Conor Gormley duel. ‘The Gooch’ was in his back yard and he put on a show for the locals.

Declan O’Sullivan also stood out in the first 35, in fact I’d say he stepped up to the plate, grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck and slotting over some vital scores.

Having played poorly, Tyrone were only four points down going in at half-time and even though Kerry had played with the wind and the stakes were high the game didn’t seem to be in the melting pot at all.

Gormley moved into the half-forward line for the second half and initially the switch had the desired effect. His early goal rallied the troops but the comeback didn’t last long.

Two minutes later Kieran Donaghy cancelled out that goal and it stopped Tyrone in their tracks. It was great to see the smile back on The Star’s face. There was a lot of pressure on him going into the game, questions were asked about whether or not he was worthy of a place in the starting 15 and if he could find form. He silenced his critics yesterday with a hard-working display and at times the magic between himself and Cooper was back at its best.

Brian McGuigan’s red card was harsh but it worked in Kerry’s favour. Even though teams with 14 men often prosper, it was the final nail in Tyrone’s coffin.

Tomas O Se equalled Darragh’s milestone of 81 championship appearances and it couldn’t have been a sweeter one; now next week against Clare he’s a chance to get one up on his brother.

The spring is back in Kerry’s step and they couldn’t have timed it better.

This article appeare in The Sunday Independent on Sunday 22nd July 2012
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