Tyrone will need to do more than just settle in behind walls of fortress
Kerry have own questions to answer but have nous to overcome tight defences
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte is up against the fourth All-Ireland-winning Kerry manager of his long management career. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
This eagerly awaited encounter is dominated by the presence of Mickey Harte. The Tyrone manager is three from four in championship matches against Kerry and failure came in the least important of the fixtures. Remarkably this weekend Harte is up against the fourth All-Ireland-winning Kerry manager of his long management career.
The consensus is that Kerry should win well and the odds reflect this but what if you were told it was going to be a one-point match?
Éamonn Fitzmaurice has demonstrated a sufficiently brisk attitude to tradition not to be terribly concerned about the past but there are question marks over the champions. Although the full-forward line is an impressive assembly, they all have current issues.
Colm Cooper is still making his way through what has been a fragile rehabilitation season. Kieran Donaghy had to pull out of the last match with a groin strain and James O’Donoghue sustained a further injury to his shoulder, which is a nagging condition to take into a match of this importance.
There are further reservations about Donaghy in the sense that he is a familiar feature for Tyrone, who played him well if not always within the rules in the 2008 final. Part of the difficulty here is nothing to do with the player himself but the impact he has on the choices of team-mates especially in a very defensive match when the temptation to shift the ball quickly into full-forward can at times overcome the imperative that deliveries be measured.
Justin McMahon may handcuff himself to Donaghy as he did with Murphy in the Donegal match in Ulster so measured ball is going to be vital.
Aidan O’Mahony was recently married and away so the decision not to start him is maybe understandable although his man-to-man marking of Michael Murphy was a significant element in last year’s All-Ireland victory. It will be interesting to see if Seán Cavanagh attracts similar attention, maybe from Peter Crowley.
Tyrone come into the match reasonably buoyant after defeating the Ulster champions and seeing Tiernan McCann cleared to play after a couple of weeks’ controversy.
They will play conservatively with blanket defence and double sweepers. It’s not a system to optimise their resources in attack but it’s one that has taken them through the back woods of a qualifier campaign and into an All-Ireland semi-final.
It’s doubtful however that a performance like the one against Monaghan will suffice here. Jim McGuinness on television before the quarter-final said that he was concerned to hear manager Malachy O’Rourke emphasise patience as a necessary quality, as he felt quicker and more penetrative moves would be needed against Tyrone.
In the event Monaghan were forced to shoot from distance but that won’t sustain a team for a whole match nor did it. Kerry have better kickers and won’t be as wasteful as Monaghan but they also have better penetration in attack and if that’s not an issue for the first three quarters, which are likely to be cagey, it may well be by the end.
In last year’s final Kerry were very disciplined in not relaxing their defences against Donegal and thereby not falling into the trap that swallowed Dublin’s ambitions at this stage 12 months ago. They’ll need to replicate that as Seán Cavanagh and the young corner forward pairing of Darren McCurry and Connor McAliskey have proved excellent at scoring on the counter.
Ultimately Kerry have better players and a heightened perception of what it takes to play defensive systems.
Waterford hurlers weren’t able to concentrate on both ends of the field at once in their semi-final against the All-Ireland champions and it’s doubtful that this will be any different.
Last meeting: This is the sixth championship meeting between the counties. Tyrone memorably won all three in the last decade, two All-Ireland finals and a semi-final, whereas Kerry won the 1986 All-Ireland final and a qualifier three years ago in Killarney, when they ran out convincing winners 1-16 to 1-6.
Odds: Kerry 1/4, Tyrone 4/1 and 10/1 the draw.
Injuries: Kerry’s Kieran O’Leary, Jack Sherwood and Michael Geaney are all injured. Tyrone’s Joe McMahon is on the bench after being injured in the quarter-final.
Just the ticket: €40 (Stand), €25 (terrace), Juveniles €5. Concessions available in Cusack and Davin Stands.
KERRY: B Kealy; P Murphy, M Ó Sé, S Enright; J Lyne, P Crowley, K Young; A Maher, D Moran; S O’Brien, J Buckley, D Walsh; C Cooper, K Donaghy (capt), J O’Donoghue.
Subs: B Kelly, A O’Mahony, B Sheehan, P Geaney, BJ Keane, D O’Sullivan, F Fitzgerald, P Galvin, T Walsh, P Kilkenny, A Fitzgerald.
TYRONE: N Morgan; A McCrory, R McNamee, C McCarron; R McNabb, Justin McMahon, P Harte; C Cavanagh, M Donnelly; T McCann, M Bradley, C Meyler; D McCurry, S Cavanagh (capt), C McAliskey.
Subs: M O’Neill, L Brennan, R Brennan, C Clarke, R Donnelly, D McBride, C McCann, Joe McMahon, P McNulty, R O’Neill, B Tierney.
Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois).