Kerry facing treacherous trek north to Clones

Super 8 stage may ignite with eagerly anticipated clash between Dublin and Tyrone

 Clones, Co Monaghan, the spiritual home of Ulster football and sure to provide a testy atmosphere for visiting Kerry fans. Photograph: Presseye/William Cherry

Clones, Co Monaghan, the spiritual home of Ulster football and sure to provide a testy atmosphere for visiting Kerry fans. Photograph: Presseye/William Cherry

 

No trip to Kerry is complete without a visit to the South Pole Inn in Annascaul, part public house and part museum and built by Tom Crean, the famed Antarctic explorer. Crean’s wanderlust took him from the family farm, at the age of 15, on journeys around the world as a member of the Royal Navy before taking part in Scott and Shackleton’s mythical polar expeditions – including the legendary 1,500 kilometre journey by lifeboat to South Georgia. Yes, mutter Kerry fans this weekend as they pack the bags and fill the flasks, but would he have been fit for Clones?

It is still 24 hours before throw-in but already Kerry’s do-or-die championship game in the spiritual home of Ulster football has become embedded in the imagination of all Kingdom supporters. Kerry GAA has already issued the clarion call, urging the fanbase – which traditionally begins to plan for road-trips in late August – to head north.

Kerry’s underwhelming performance on an underwhelming Sunday in Croke Park against Galway leaves them at the first (and possibly last) crisis point of the season. They have to go into the bear-pit and somehow survive against Monaghan. And Monaghan are at the peak of their survival skills: you could throw them, without food or water, into the heart of the Amazon jungle and bank on them coming out safely at the other end, having scored approximately 1-13, edging a tight last 10 minutes.

St Tiernach’s Park, Clones, on Ulster final day where Monaghan were surprisingly ambushed by Fermanagh. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
St Tiernach’s Park, Clones, on Ulster final day where Monaghan were surprisingly ambushed by Fermanagh. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Their defeat to Fermanagh bamboozled them because it came from a goal so late they could do nothing about it. Instead, they knuckled down and are where they want to be: organised, confident, a deeply sticky team with special talents in Karl O’Connell and Conor McManus. It is no easy proposition for a young Kerry team that suddenly, for all its talent, looks unproven.

Survival

The forecast was that Kerry were beginning to assemble a team with the requisite pace and sharp-shooting to challenge Dublin. This is just about survival. It took 1-5 from David Clifford just to keep Kerry in touch with Galway a week ago: Sunday will demand big performances from James O’Donoghue and Paul Geaney if Kerry are to win in what will be an electric atmosphere.

It will be no surprise to see Eamonn Fitzmaurice introduce senior statesmen Darran O’Sullivan and Kieran Donaghy as the game progresses. The 4pm throw-in may dissuade some Kerry fans from making the 10-hour round trip, but there is no doubt that this is the critical moment of the Kingdom’s season.

A hostile . . . venue for the All-Ireland champions

That match is preceded by a mouth-watering clash in Omagh on Saturday night between All-Ireland champions Dublin and Tyrone. If it is true that Healy Park has not been, as Mickey Harte acknowledged, “any kind of fortress,” for Tyrone in recent years, then that truth isn’t irreversible. Former forward Owen Mulligan, no stranger to chutzpah, urged that the Omagh venue should become a “hostile, intimidating and uncomfortable” venue for the All-Ireland champions. These, after all, were the characteristics on which the place thrived.

Passivity

One of the many Tyrone worries of last summer’s heavy championship defeat to Dublin was the passivity of the team and there is a feeling that they will need to rediscover the attitude and defiance of their predecessors if they are to achieve a first championship win over Dublin in 10 years.

The weekend opens with Donegal visiting Hyde Park for a 5pm throw-in against Roscommon on Saturday. It is a must-win match for both teams. Kevin McStay has brought the experienced Seán McDermott into his fullback line while Brian Stack is included at full forward.

A Kildare team who have shown explosive form in Newbridge

Kildare and Galway meet at 2pm on Sunday. Galway have to make the adjustment to playing the remainder of the championship without Paul Conroy, their senior midfielder and on-field leader. The leg break he suffered was the major downside of their win over Kerry and they face a tough assignment against a Kildare team who have shown explosive form in Newbridge over the past month.

The GAA will be hopeful that the series of games will showcase the potential for the Super 8 concept to create brand new championship match-ups and to bring the elite stage of the championship to provincial venues. Tickets for Dublin-Tyrone have already sold out, with a big crowd also expected in Clones for a match which could breathe life and fire into this stage of the football championship.

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