Peter Keane taking nothing for granted as Kerry remain wary of Tyrone threat

In a recent history of tight margins, Kingdom’s big win in Killarney last June is an outlier

Peter Keane: “I’m certainly not getting carried away with that [league semi-final] result and neither are the team.” Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Peter Keane: “I’m certainly not getting carried away with that [league semi-final] result and neither are the team.” Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

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Stripped of its obvious controversies, Saturday’s Kerry-Tyrone All-Ireland semi-final carries the baggage of a fierce rivalry that spans the century. Mickey Harte’s team thwarted Kerry three times on the way to winning an All-Ireland but over the past decade that trend has been reversed.

This weekend Peter Keane’s team will be attempting to string together a fourth successive championship win over the Ulster champions and after 2015 and 2019, a third successive semi-final.

Making this year different is that Tyrone are under new management after 18 years of Mickey Harte concluded last winter.

His successors are Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher, who won the 2015 under-21 All-Ireland. Their preparation – and Kerry’s – for Saturday has been massively affected by the Covid outbreak in Tyrone that caused the match to be postponed by a fortnight.

Hiding a little in the undergrowth is the match the counties did play back in June, in a league semi-final down in Killarney, which Kerry blitzed, scoring six goals in the process.

It was a sobering lesson for the Ulster champions, who had an impressive provincial, campaign, defeating all the counties who had (as well as them) won the Anglo-Celt Cup in the previous six years.

Keane was asked was this big win in a way an unwelcome precedent to be bringing to a match of this importance.

“I don’t think it was reflective of the day. I think I said that afterwards. You were mocking me and laughing when I said that if you took the goals out of it, I wouldn’t have felt there was a whole pile between us [the score was 6-15 to 1-14). Tyrone got 1-14, 15 scores against us on the day.”

That phraseology has become a familiar one for those interviewing the Kerry manager after matches – the calculation of the total number of scores conceded reflecting his constant focus on defence and often as a veiled riposte to critics.

The basic point is however, valid. Teams who concede a lot of scorers, especially goals against the run of play, can find themselves out of the contest from an early stage.

Capable team

“They’re a very capable team. We were down 0-3 to 0-1 in that game and the next thing we got a goal and then Gavin White got a goal in over the top. Suddenly we were in at the water break, 3-1 to 0-3 ahead. That turns the momentum of a game and so I’m certainly not getting carried away with that result and neither are the team.”

Feargal Logan was comparatively Zen when discussing the trimming earlier in the season.

“Of course it’s a chastening experience. But that’s life. Around football, you get days when things just go totally off-beam on you.”

There is greater equilibrium in the evidence of other league meetings, staring with Keane’s first as Kerry manager in January 2019 when they won another league encounter in Killarney by a more sparing margin, 0-11 to 0-7 although it wasn’t a particularly good showing by Tyrone, who managed just a point by half-time.

A year later, just before the pandemic shut everything down, there was a fractious encounter in Tyrone during which David Clifford was sent off and which the home side won by a point.

“As I outlined earlier there wasn’t much in the previous games we played, above in Edendork when we lost by a point in a right good battle and we were lucky to get our noses out in front in 2019.

“We’re not reading much into that game down in Killarney and I don’t think anyone else should either. That’s not me just brushing it off. A game can run away from you very quickly and it’s very hard to put a game right when you’re trailing that early. They also lost Darragh Canavan quite early in the semi-final, after about four minutes.”

There again wasn’t very much between the teams in the most significant match of Keane’s management, the All-Ireland semi-final from two years ago when only one score separated them, 1-18 to 0-18.

Six years ago, Kerry also came out on top, 0-18 to 1-11, at the same stage. Earlier that year, the league encounter had ended in a draw, 0-17 to 1-14. In a recent history of tight margins, Killarney last June is an outlier.

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