Tyrone leave Kingdom desolate again
ALL-IRELAND SFC FINAL Tyrone 1-15 Kerry 0-14: ONE OF THE few things accurately foreseen by the prevailing consensus was yesterday's GAA All-Ireland football final would be a tight affair, in all likelihood still open up to the 70th minute.
That's how it turned out, but in an emphatic conclusion to a fascinating contest it was champions Kerry, who once more in the face of Ulster opposition, faltered in a delirious finish. Afloat on their trademark swirling energies, Tyrone brought home the Sam Maguire for the third time in a memorable decade that began with the county still to make its mark on the roll of honour.
Maybe the match swung on a sequence in the 66th minute when in a trademark move, Declan O'Sullivan surged on to the ball and created the space for a shot at goal. Trailing 0-14 to 1-12, Kerry would have moved two clear if he had scored. Instead Pascal McConnell, a late call-up to the Tyrone goal after John Devine's bereavement on Saturday, managed to block the ball away for a 45.
In the process of being replaced, Bryan Sheehan stayed on long enough to send the kick wide and puncture Kerry's confidence in a likely recovery. The reason the match only "maybe" swung on this is that Tyrone could hardly be written off on the basis of a two-point deficit with five minutes left but Kerry's opportunity to govern the momentum for the remainder of the match was lost.
The consequences of this were brought home in the space of a brutal minute when Tyrone stunningly found that extra gear and rattled off three points, from Enda McGinley, Kevin Hughes (finally, after three howling wides) and Colm Cavanagh, to kill Kerry's ambitions of three-in-a-row in the dying moments of the 2008 championship.
That's an indication of how close Kerry came but there was no doubting the merits of Tyrone's victory. Once again they imposed their game on Kerry and countered the champions' strongest points to the extent that the game was played on their terms.
Aside from the enforced switch in goal, manager Mickey Harte made two changes before the throw-in, replacing Ciarán Gourley with Ryan Mellon and sending Joe McMahon back to mark Tommy Walsh. Martin Penrose came in for Brian McGuigan.
For most people, Kerry were an improved team compared to 2005 because Kieran Donaghy had transformed their ball-winning capacity in the full-forward line. This season that improvement had been accelerated by the arrival of Walsh but Tyrone coped in textbook fashion by making a serviceable supply as difficult as possible.
Kerry didn't help themselves in this process by displaying so little variety in the building of attacks but McMahon, especially, his brother Justin and Conor Gormley did everything to disrupt possession of what did come through.
Ironically if the full forwards disappointed the high expectations, the Kerry full backs improved considerably on recent matches.
On a downbeat note it's worth remarking the final marked a fitting end to what has been a disciplinary shambles of a season. Repeated fouling by Tyrone went inadequately punished yesterday, as referee Maurice Deegan opted to save his cards for more vivid transgressions of which Kerry provided plenty.
But that's the way the game has developed and until indiscipline becomes a impediment to winning, things will hardly change.
Yet this was an undeniably enthralling match - during which the sides were level on 10 occasions - with a number of wonderful individual performances.
Leading the way for Tyrone was Seán Cavanagh with five points from play capping a masterful display. He started at full forward but, as has been the team's constant conundrum, when the supply dried up had to move out the field. He remained centrally involved in the team's effort and kicked a critical point to equalise just after Kerry had regained the lead in the 57th minute.
At centrefield, McGinley maintained his consistent excellence, moving tirelessly around the middle and kicking the point that pushed his team two ahead after Kerry had pressed hard for an equaliser for five minutes.
It was the ultimate superiority of Tyrone around the middle that decided the match. Darragh Ó Sé played exceptionally well in the first half, mocking apprehensions that he might struggle to win high ball against opposition spoiling.
In the 55th minute he kicked Kerry level for the first time since conceding a goal just after half-time - a fine finish after some virtuoso probing by Colm Cooper.
In the first half Declan O'Sullivan put in a terrific performance, thrusting forward and kicking two points and also covering back to assist the defence, at one stage bringing off a fabulous block on Cavanagh and recovering in time to win possession and launch a solo run back up the field.
But Kerry couldn't get sustained traction around the middle and appeared to lose significantly the breaking ball count. Davy Harte, Philip Jordan and Ryan McMenamin got forward as expected and if they didn't get on the scoreboard as much as previously, the ball carrying kept Kerry under pressure.
Captain Brian Dooher also maintained his driven form of this season, covering oceans of ground and kicking one of the great points of the afternoon in the 24th minute, bouncing off three intended tackles before kicking over from the right wing to tie up the match at 0-6 each, seconds after McConnell had saved smartly from a great goal opportunity from Walsh.
This maintained the incremental scoring pattern of the first half, which saw Kerry pull ahead, 0-8 to 0-7, through a Cooper free before going in at half-time. Tyrone must nonetheless have been happy with the way in which their opponents were struggling to mobilise the threat of Donaghy and Walsh.
The second half had only started when Tommy McGuigan followed the ball into the net after replacement Kevin Hughes had been sent in by Stephen O'Neill - introduced to great excitement in the 25th minute but unsurprisingly after a year out of the inter-county game, he struggled to make an impact - but seen his shot blocked.
Kerry spent most of the second half chasing down the deficit of that goal but three times Tyrone replied with points of their own within a minute of conceding a score. Darren O'Sullivan came on and made an impact for Kerry, his pace opening up avenues to goal, but team captain Paul Galvin, back after suspension to a hair-raisingly thunderous reception, was unable to impact on the match.
As the deposed champions ponder this latest crushing disappointment at the hands of Tyrone they can at least reflect on still having won more All-Irelands this decade than anyone else.
Dejection after stacking up four All-Irelands in eight years is a crisis of self-esteem 31 other counties can only dream of addressing.