McKenna’s clinical finishing helps Tyrone complete spectacular coup

Red Hand produce typically dogged display to confound the pundits and end Kerry’s hopes

Tyrone 3-14 Kerry 0-22 [after extra-time]

Tyrone materialised out of Kerry’s bad dreams on Saturday to perform another spectacular coup in the tangled history between the counties.

A new generation of players now have it on their record that, as hot favourites in an All-Ireland showcase, they were outmanoeuvred, outthought and outscored by unfancied opponents from Tyrone.

Even by the high standards of the Ulster champions' ambushes this was one for this picture frame. Recently riddled by Covid and unable to train, Tyrone took the field amidst worries that they could run out of steam at any stage let alone if required to go to extra time and endure 20 minutes with someone in the sin bin – or so we thought.


Here though are some other things that we thought: Kerry's attack, with its 21 goals this season, including six against Saturday's opponents in the league, was a gold standard; their defence although not in the category would suffice to conceded fewer scores that the team managed at the other end and that their general cruising speed at the top of the game in the past couple of years would outweigh the competitive disadvantage of the Munster championship in relation to its Ulster counterpart.

Competition is crucially important and the hard road through Ulster proved far superior preparation for a high-stakes encounter than the target practice in Munster no matter how accomplished.

New Tyrone joint-managers Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher brought a smart game plan, match-ups that clicked and – in the circumstances – an extraordinarily fit bunch of players, who got forward on support runs and covered back in numbers. This exhausting detail had a big impact on the match.

Deprived of primary possession by Kerry’s superiority at centrefield, Tyrone thrived on errors and turnovers. Although their inside forwards were well contained – Tom O’Sullivan, one of the team’s better performers, particularly dominant on Darren McCurry – in the early stages, the Ulster champions sourced a score from each of their notional full backs in the first half.

The running from deep created confusion in the Kerry defence and identified that whereas the found individual marking comfortable enough, coping with disruptive movement didn’t come as easily and that the team’s forwards appeared to lack focus when it came to tracking counter attacks.

Finisher’s instinct

This was exposed in 25th minute when Peter Harte's gallop up the left wing culminated in Niall Sludden taking the ball on and finding Conor McKenna. After his marvellous return from the AFL and speedy adaptation last year, he had found the going a little more difficult this season but his finisher's instinct claimed the goal and a 1-5 to 0-5 lead.

This reoriented a match that has swung first Kerry's way and then Tyrone's and then back: 0-5 to 0-4 at the water break and level going down the stretch of the first half, it took a booming, 70-metre free by goalkeeper Niall Morgan, whose place kicking tumbled a bit after the break, to restore his team's lead at 1-7 to 0-9.

Morgan managed three wides on Saturday and Kerry also challenged strongly on his restarts, winning about a third.

Two issues at half-time: Tyrone were clearly ahead in all of the indicative areas, more tackles and turnovers as well as on the scoreboard and for all Kerry's highly-rated forwards, just two, Seán O'Shea, well marked by Pádraig Hampsey, and David Clifford had exclusively bagged all the scores; they would finish with 0-16 out of a total of 0-22.

Four of the outstanding six points were scored in extra time and so for the first 70 minutes, Kerry’s attacks were somewhat predictable. Clifford was (to coin an oxymoron) exceptional as usual with six from play or marks and once he had to retire injured after challenging for a high ball late in normal, he was unable to continue, a huge loss for Peter Keane’s team.

His brother, Paudie Clifford was unable to build on his provincial reputation and was probably followed into the dressingroom at half-time by Conor Meyler who was man marking him to the point of suffocation.

The two second-half black cards – Niall Sludden for pulling down Paul Murphy and Darren McCurry for a similar foul on Gavin Crowley – should have eased open the Tyrone defence but Kerry won the first period by just a point and actually lost the second by 1-0 to 0-1.

Manifest advantage

The goal encapsulated another manifest advantage for Tyrone: their bench added vigour and excitement. Logan praised Darragh Canavan for his cameo and it included a clever run, dummying his way onto a pop pass by Matthew Donnelly, a shot, saved well by Shane Ryan, and a follow-up by McShane for a second goal.

McShane, fighting to regain form, did just that with 1-3.

The final goal – McKenna ramming home his second after Jack Barry had ill-advisedly fly-kicked an errant attempt at a point back into play and straight to Tyrone's marksman – set the tone for the rest of extra time.

All in all, a big setback for Kerry, who as soon as Dublin went out were written up as overwhelming favourites for the All-Ireland. Tyrone didn't pay that script too much attention and now face Mayo in a first final between the counties.

TYRONE: 1 Niall Morgan (0-2, one free, one 45); 2 Michael McKernan (0-1), 3 Ronan McNamee (0-1), 4 Pádraig Hampsey (capt; 0-1); 18 Frank Burns, 10 Conor Meyler, 7 Peter Harte (0-1); 8 Brian Kennedy, 9 Conn Kilpatrick; 6 Kieran McGeary, 11 Michael O'Neill, 12 Niall Sludden; 13 Darren McCurry (0-4, two frees), 14 Mattie Donnelly (0-1, mark), 15 Conor McKenna (2-0).

Subs: Cathal McShane (1-3, one free) for Kennedy (44 mins); Tiernan McCann for O'Neill (55); Ben McDonnell for McCann (temp, 64-67); Darragh Canavan for Sludden (64); McDonnell for Kilpatrick (74); Mark Bradley for McCurry, Ronan O'Neill for Harte (both 76).

Sin-bin: Sludden (40-50 mins); McCurry (59-69).

KERRY: 1 Shane Ryan; 2 Brian Ó Beaglaoich, 3 Jason Foley, 4 Tom O'Sullivan (0-1); 5 Michael Breen, 6 Paul Murphy (capt; 0-1), 7 Gavin White; 8 David Moran, 9 Jack Barry; 26 Dara Moynihan, 15 Paudie Clifford (0-2), 12 Stephen O'Brien; 11 Seán O'Shea (0-8, six frees, one 45), 13. David Clifford (0-8, two frees, two marks), 14 Paul Geaney (0-1).

Subs: Killian Spillane for Moynihan (half-time); Gavin Crowley for Breen (50 mins); Adrian Spillane for Geaney, Diarmuid O'Connor (0-1) for O'Brien (both 55); Tommy Walsh for Moran (60); Tadhg Morley for Ó Beaghlaoich, Geaney for D Clifford (both 71 mins); Jack Sherwood for Barry (77); Graham O'Sullivan for Foley (80); Micheál Burns for O'Sullivan (87).

Referee: David Coldrick (Meath).

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times