Off form Tyrone ease way for Kerry
SPRINGTIME flattery? Or a true picture of Kerry's current health? Both teams may carry the respective mantles of provincial champions, but the truth of the matter is that this skin deep National Football League Division One encounter at Fitzgerald Stadium, Killarney, yesterday merely scratched the surface as far as the real questions go; the type of posers which arise when silverware is at stake remained very much unanswered.
Munster champions Kerry, bedevilled by injuries and the absence of their so called "New Yorkers" (the players suspended for playing in the United States without authorisation), and Ulster kingpins Tyrone, also carrying the dual burden of injuries and suspensions, were involved in a somewhat surreal mismatch and, in the end, the home side was never in danger of losing a game which retained its competitive nature for little more than the opening 10 minutes.
However, it is doubtful if Kerry will encounter such a timid and accommodating defence again for the rest of the year. No less than 10 Kerry players troubled the scoreboard operator, and 15 of their 18 scores came from play. Yet, for Kerry manager Paidi O Se, the real bonus was the way his team (deprived of three players through injury before the throw in and another in the course of the game) coped with adversity.
On paper, considering our injury problems, we appeared to have a weakened team, but it actually turned out to be our strength because the lads brought in fought so hard for everything. And when you score so frequently, 18 times, you have to be happy," said O Se.
Still, pragmatism rather than any outlandish euphoria is likely to be the reaction of Kerry folk, players, management and supporters alike. The two points will go a long way towards ensuring that they win a place in the League's knock out stages and, apart from some encouraging shapes thrown by newcomers like Rory Rahilly and the confirmation of Maurice Fitzgerald's majesty, that is really all any of the 6,000 crowd could take away from the game.
Without Peter Canavan Tyrone just do not function with the same guile or cut and thrust. Yesterday, the team, which showed no less than seven positional changes from the team on the official programme, struggled for long periods, trailed by 10 points at halftime, and only showed some resolve in the second half at a time when the embarrassing prospect of a massive defeat was facing the demand their Kerry opponents suffered a simultaneous loss in concentration.
Strangely, Tyrone actually started off well and led for the opening five minutes, thanks to a pointed free from Ger Cavlan. Indeed, when Cavlan pointed again in the 16th minute - to leave the scores tied at 0-3 apiece - all the indications were that the two sides would be locked into a tit for tat affair. It was not to be. Tyrone failed to score again until the seventh minute of the second half, by which stage Kerry had galloped clear and were nearly in warm down mode.
That Cavlan free midway through the first half was actually the catalyst for Kerry's supreme effort. Fitzgerald, operating with considerable effect at full forward, floated over a point after a lovely pass from the industrious Genie Farrell then James O'Shea and John Crowley contributed good points at the end of fine team moves, and in the 22nd minute O'Shea fired home Kerry's goal after receiving the kind of foot pass from Fitzgerald that one suspected that been lost forever.
When things are going against you, they really go against you - and, within moments of O'Shea's goal, Tyrone forward Ciaran Loughran watched in dismay as his blistering shot rebounded off an upright with Kerry goalkeeper Peter O'Leary beaten. Worse still the ball came back into play (typically, to Kerry hands) and was swept down the field for Donal Daly to kick another Kerry point.
Indeed, a notable feature of Kerry's first-half display was the number of well-taken points they had scored (none better than Pa Laide's long-range effort shortly before the break) and the writing was well and truly on the wall for Tyrone when they trooped in at half-time trailing by 1-10 to 0-3.
Tyrone's goal arrived in the 46th minute, when respectability rather than any genuine hopes of victory were uppermost in their minds. Stephen Lawn's high ball was broken down by Matt McGleenan and O'Leary to Ciaran McBride, who crashed the ball to the back of the net. McBride had foraged very deeply throughout the match, but he had returned to his customary position on the edge of the square on this occasion.
But the goal didn't inspire any wondrous fightback from Tyrone. Instead, Kerry remarshalled their forces, and it was typical of the day that was in it that Fitzgerald should kick the winners' last three points of the game to ensure a comprehensive nine-point winning margin.
Tyrone, of course, can and must do better. The trip up the road to the airport in Farranfore for the flight home was, no doubt, a rather sombre one for all concerned, but, on yesterday's performance, Tyrone appear to have lost their way a little bit. One suspects the `real' Tyrone won't resurface until all the injury and suspension problems have sorted themselves out. By then, it could be too late for any genuine League aspirations.
In contrast, Kerry - although by no means world heaters - appear to be in good shape. Any team who can score 18 times in a competitive match must be doing something right. And, as the bulldozers move in on the Fitzgerald Stadium terraces today for major reconstruction work, many of the Kerry fans who stood on those steps yesterday can expect, with some degree of confidence, to be back on the new steps in July for their team's defence of the Munster crown.