Kerry’s firepower likely to trump Tyrone’s miserly defence
Kingdom’s patience and precision should be enough to win day over Red Hand
Kerry’s Johnny Buckley competes with Mattie Donnelly and Colm Cavanagh of Tyrone: You’d have to imagine Kerry have enough about them to see their way to September. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
After the sideshow – if you want to call it the short-back-and- sides-show, that’s quite your own business – time again for the ball to be in and the game to be on. Tyrone and Kerry, Kerry and Tyrone, converging for a right good sort-out. Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s back-to-back hunters against Mickey Harte’s Tyrone, the crowd who never saw a party that couldn’t use a little pooping.
What will we see? Expectation can’t reasonably be described as high. There appears to be a popular feeling abroad that we ought to shield the eyes of the women and children here, at least for the opening period. You can’t move without tripping over siege mentalities and conspiracy theories. If they manifest themselves in even half the predicted pucking and belting, they’ll have to clear a floor of the Mater come teatime tomorrow.
In truth, all the foreboding feels a little ginned up. The last time these sides met in Croke Park, most of tomorrow’s participants were still in school. War stories from a generation ago are a great way of filling the week but they’re of no particular relevance come throw-in.
And as for The Dive and The Ban and The Appeal and The Cause, the reality is that nothing has changed for Tyrone since the final whistle a fortnight ago. Will they be wound a little tighter on the back of it all? If we say yes, we assume they wouldn’t be coming to Croke Park wound tight as they need to be already. Not really the Mickey Harte way, is it?
Actually, one thing has changed for Tyrone and it’s of far more significance than a CCCC charge that was never going to stand up. Both they and Kerry lost a key player early in their semi-final, but they don’t have Joe McMahon back, whereas Kerry have named James O’Donoghue. In a game where the respective teamsheets were always going to have an unbalanced look about them anyway, that’s an unmistakeable widening of the gap.
Here’s what we know. Tyrone will protect their goal like lionesses. They have conceded just two goals in their last 10 championship games and you have to go back two years and 14 matches to a qualifier against Meath in 2013 for the last time they conceded more than one in 70 minutes of championship ball. Nobody else – not Donegal and not Monaghan – can lay claim to such miserly concession rates over an extended stretch.
“I don’t get hung up on any of these things,” said Harte last week when it was pointed out that they could do with a few up the other end. “Some people decide you are not getting enough goals, they can latch onto that if they want. I think if you get enough points, you don’t need goals. If you don’t concede many goals, you certainly don’t need as many goals.”
The flipside, though, is that when you do give up a green flag, you’re in trouble if you can’t find a match for it. Those two goals conceded in the past 10 games ultimately led to defeat both times. Tyrone have three goals all season, two of them penalties. By contrast, Kerry have 12 in four games.
While the seven against Kildare is obviously an outlier, there’s no hiding the fact that Kerry’s currency is goals and Tyrone’s is not. In 14 games under Fitzmaurice, they’ve only failed to grab a goal twice. Any one they get tomorrow will be worth more than the usual three points.
Irresistible force, immovable object. Kerry are older by an average of just under three years a man. Marc Ó Sé turns out for his 85th championship game, Colm Cooper for his 81st, Seán Cavanagh his 79th. There’s road left in them yet, so it’s a pleasure to ride along for the last few miles.
As for how it will go, cold logic says Kerry have the better look about them. It’s entirely probable that the white noise of recrimination over the past fortnight has goaded us into imagining this a tighter squeeze than it is likely to be. The assumption that Tyrone will come out like demons is one thing; converting it into a total that Kerry won’t be able to surpass is very much another.
Top scorers on bench
Put it this way. Fitzmaurice has decided to go into an All-Ireland semi-final with three of his four top scorers in the championship so far on the bench. Bryan Sheehan (0-14), Paul Geaney (2-8) and Barry John Keane (2-7) have led the way at various points along the road this summer, but they don’t warrant a start here. Colm Cooper (also 2-7) does, alongside O’Donoghue and Kieran Donaghy. When it comes to score- taking, Kerry’s riches would make a sultan blush.
It’s hard to shake the feeling too that having had occasional bother in the past thinking their way around the challenge of flinty Ulster teams, they slayed a dragon of sorts against Donegal in last year’s final. Coming up against ultra-defensive football holds no particular horrors for them anymore.
It took them a while, but they looked to have learned that patience and precision will generally get it done in the end. Tyrone’s job tomorrow will be to test that patience and play havoc with that precision. Much and all as they will relish the task, you’d have to imagine Kerry have enough about them to see their way to September.