Kildare could have the measure of Tyrone in what will be a game of inches
Kieran McGeeney’s incredible qualifier record may pull them through
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte and Kildare boss Kieran McGeeney have the upmost respect for each other. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
A major difference from the last time Tyrone sauntered into Newbridge last March is Tomás O’Connor. It’s not that simple, of course, but Kildare looked in desperate need of a target man in the shadow of the opposition’s posts when Mickey Harte’s evolving team picked them apart in the league.
It is also worth noting their main weapon on that freezing cold Sunday was Stephen O’Neill. The multi-decorated, former footballer of the year returns to join young Darren McCurry in a potent looking full forward line.
Flicking through the Tyrone side, and its balance of youth allied by O’Neill, Seán Cavanagh, Conor Gormley and Joe Harte, they should be playing Meath in seven days’ time. There is also Peter Harte pulling the strings from centre back, although he will surely wander from there.
All told, that should be enough for Harte and Tyrone to haunt Kieran McGeeney’s dreams once again.
But wait. Forget the Kildare performance against Dublin. It can’t matter tonight. Not if the previous six years of McGeeney influence matter at all. They simply cannot be as sloppy in possession.
The Kildare attack has soldiered on without much influence from Seánie Johnston (making last year’s ructions over his “transfer” from Cavan seem a little silly now).
Lack of power
In the wake of the 16-point Dublin drubbing, McGeeney spoke candidly about the lack of power in the middle third of his team. He spoke about his Armagh and how they could always rely on powering home. But Tyrone figured that out.
McGeeney, the football tactician, has grown since but he has repetitively faltered against the Garry Kasparov of his footballing life.
“I have total respect for Kieran McGeeney,” said Mickey Harte this week. “I think he was a great player. I had total respect for him as a player and equally so as a manager. He’s one of those people with whom what you see is what you get and it is very hard to beat that.
“I have never found him anything other than courteous and gentleman-like on the field with me and I’d like to think he feels the same way. I respect him for what he has done and I consider him a very decent man.”
This is an equally huge moment for Harte. Last year Kerry refused to allow a Tyrone side in decline do make a seismic impact in Killarney. Having changed the make-up of the panel, he must now figure out McGeeney’s Kildare in equally changing times.
But it still feels like an O’Neill or Johnny Doyle contribution will trap the other side’s King. That’s why O’Connor’s presence might just matter. He can be sloppy within sight of goal but he should provide a wealth of tasty breaking ball.
Unless Harte foresees this ploy and lumps McMahon in on top of him. I’ll see your big man, Kieran, and raise you a vintage Seán Cavanagh performance. There is a huge emphasis on Pádraig Flynn or Daryl Flynn to make sure that doesn’t happen.
It’s a really hard game to call. Form edges Tyrone ahead but Kildare must show more on their home patch.
Both teams failed when faced with primary enemies, Donegal and Dublin. Granted, Kildare flopped entirely while Tyrone were just flat.
The bookmakers like Kildare by a few inches. And it’s true their qualifier record under McGeeney is exemplary. Maybe, just maybe he will get one back for 2003 and 2005.