Kerry hold off Tyrone to survive in top flight

Donegal draw means Kingdom remain in Division One

Tomás Ó Sé scored Kerry’s goal in Omagh. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Tomás Ó Sé scored Kerry’s goal in Omagh. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho


Seeing is believing, hearing it is even better. Because as exciting as this old dust up out on the field finished, it was nothing compared to the nervous tension that followed in the cold, grey corridors.

Kerry had just about survived Tyrone’s ferocious finish, but to survive in division one, still needed a little help from some old friends – and why Paul Mannion may want to book his next free weekend in Kerry.

Word of his late equaliser for Dublin against Donegal, a little further northwest, played out like a siren song inside the Kerry dressing room, and Eamonn Fitzmaurice emerged with the smile to prove it.

“Yarra, we’ll have to buy him a pint somewhere along the line,” Fitzmaurice conceded, not that lots of Dublin footballers don’t get free pints in Kerry already. But Donegal’s defeat meant Kerry stay up, simple as that.

“Sure we always knew we needed to get a result somewhere else too,” added Fitzmaurice, “and just about hung on here really, so maybe had that bit of luck. But sure we haven’t had too much luck this year.

“Look, we’re delighted to be staying in division one, and with three good wins behind us now can look forward to the championship. We’re going in the right direction anyway. And yeah it would have been a setback to be relegated, and I’d say if we’d been beaten here, and gone down, that would have been very disappointing.”

Truth is Kerry weren’t so much lucky to hold on here as they were deserving: Tyrone huffed and puffed but just couldn’t quite blow down the handsome lead that Kerry built up in the first half, and it would have been a harsh result if they had.

Indeed what produced Kerry in the opening 35 minutes was their best play in many years, all fears about their future swiftly disappearing against the backdrop of some truly vintage football.

With Tyrone already safely into the semi-finals, they were still tuning up while Kerry roared into a commanding lead, running rings of fire around their men, the heavily sanded pitch adding some dramatic effect.

A total blitz of scores left them 1-13 to 0-5 in front at the break, seven different Kerry players chipping in with scores (they briefly went 12 points ahead). Declan O’Sullivan and Kieran Donaghy claimed three each, the goal finished by Tomás O Sé on 33 minutes, after a run he himself started, and sweetly combined with Donaghy and Darran O’Sullivan.

Brilliantly orchestrating it all was Colm “Gooch” Cooper, his sharper haircut mirroring his every move. Newcomers Jonathan Lyne and Johnny Buckley were blending seamlessly with the old guard, and even with the strong to their backs, Kerry’s lead looked insurmountable. But Tyrone rarely let anyone out of Omagh without a fight, although this one stayed firmly within the limits of good discipline, and pure competitive spirit. Stephen O’Neill started the rally with a goal just four minutes after the restart, and Tyrone followed that by outscoring Kerry six points to one, Sean Cavanagh helped to raise the charge, along with substitutes Conor Clarke and Conor Gormley.

On 70 minutes, they still trailed by four, but in the four minutes of injury time that referee Marty Duffy somehow conjured up, Cavanagh hit a point and then Mark Donnelly pounced for a late, late goal – coming from a quickly taken 45: truth is both teams could have had several more goals, hitting the post twice in the first half, but finishing within a point of Kerry was still no mean feat, given how far back they’d come from.

“Yeah, we really let it slip in the first half,” said Sean Cavanagh. “We just knew we had to do ourselves justice after that. We knew the wind advantage was six or seven points. But the first half was a lesson, definitely. We can’t let that happen again this year.”

Team mate and Tyrone captain Stephen O’Neill agreed: “We just ran out of time, really. But after that first half, where everyone had let themselves down, we knew what we had to do. It was a bit of a wake-up call, but we’ll take it all on board going into the semi-finals next weekend.”

Tyrone will clearly have some say yet in the destination of this league title, while for Kerry, all thoughts now switch to the championship: even if the so-called older players ultimately turned their form, players such as Jonathon Lyne, Johnny Buckley, and Mark Griffin are real options now for Fitzmaurice.

“We wanted to get a strong squad,” agreed the Kerry manager. “We’ve used 33 players, and a lot of players have realised what it takes to wear that Kerry jersey. It will all be up for grabs again for the championship, but I think we have a stronger squad, definitely.”

Indeed both teams walk on, same as it ever was.

KERRY: B Kealy; M O Se, M Griffin, S Enright; T O Se (1-1), E Brosnan, K Young; A Maher, J Buckley (0-3, one free); J Lyne (0-1), C Cooper (0-3, two frees), P Galvin; Declan O'Sullivan (0-3), K Donaghy (0-3), Darran O'Sullivan (0-2). Subs: B McGuire for Brosnan (4 mins, injury), D Walsh for Galvin, K O'Leary for Darran O'Sullivan (both 57 mins), B Sheehan for Buckley (66 mins).

TYRONE: N Morgan (0-1, a free); A McCrory, Justin McMahon, C McCarron; R McKenna, Joe McMahon (0-1, a free), R McNamee; C Cavanagh, S Cavanagh (0-2, one free); P McNiece, P Harte (0-1), M Donnelly (1-0); D McCurry (0-2, both frees), S O'Neill (1-1), R O'Neill (0-1, a free). Subs: M Penrose for R O'Neill (24 mins), C Clarke (0-2) for McKenna, C Gormley (0-1) for McNamee (both 35 mins), C McGinley for McNiece (50 mins), C McAliskey for McCurry (68 mins).

Referee: Marty Duffy (Sligo).