I am reminded of Enda Gormley’s words at the final whistle of the 2003 All-Ireland. “You have to hand it to those hateful Tyrone b******s!”
yrone came onto the field relaxed and chatty for the game, which reminded me of their arrival onto Croke Park that day in 2003 against the favourites and reigning champions Armagh.
“Look at them,” my brother Proinnsias texted me on that occasion, “look at how relaxed they are. Armagh are in deep shit.”
Two decades on, Kerry were soon in deep shit. Tyrone were calm and tough, Kerry panicky and rushed. For the first 60 minutes, it was an entertaining contest between Tyrone and David Clifford. But when Clifford got injured after a hospital pass from Seán O’Shea, Kerry were done.
Trying to win an All-Ireland with a one-man team is a precarious business. Kerry, looking like an over-eager under 20 side slightly out of their depth against the real thing, soloed into cul de sacs and hand-passed the ball away on multiple occasions. Had it not been for Clifford, Tyrone would have walloped them.
As it was, the young King of Gaelic Football was unmarkable, kicking eight points and singlehandedly creating the illusion that Kerry are a serious team. But as soon as he was injured (inevitably by the umpteenth awful Kerry hand-pass) that was that.
Beforehand, when Kieran Donaghy was asked for his prediction, he smiled and said: “I’d be worried if it was wet and slippy.”
This was a reminder that Kerry have yet to shed their complacency when it comes to Tyrone. Here, they quickly discovered that Ulster teams are not Clare, and certainly not a Tyrone team backboned by Dooher steel.
My old Derry teammate Fergal McCusker, an infallible predictor of games, told me a fortnight ago that Mayo would beat Dublin.
On Wednesday, he texted to say “Tyrone to win. Kerry a one-man team. They have two feet in the final and have the false comfort of beating Tyrone by 16 points in the league. Tyrone have plenty of buckos in their team who don’t give a f**k. They will come out swinging and Kerry will eventually go down under the pressure.”
Paddy Power, who had Kerry at 1/7, should hire him. He is not expensive. Sponsoring the Watty Grahams GAC annual golf tournament will be enough to persuade him.
The first half ended with the Ulster champions a point ahead, the half-time scoreline reading Tyrone 1-7, David Clifford 0-9, but there was an air of desperation around Kerry and the mood of the contest was strongly with Tyrone.
(RTE half-time competition: Q. Which Pat has eight All-Ireland senior football medals? Is it a) Pat Spillane, b) Postman Pat, c) St Pat’s Athletic, or d) Pat Swayze? Text entries cost a minimum of €4 depending on network provider. Prize: €50 voucher for Pat’s Schoolwear, Main Street, Ardfert (only redeemable in store). No Northerners or Taliban.
Even though they owned Tyrone’s kick-outs throughout, Kerry continued to play amateurish football in the second half, remaining totally reliant on Clifford for scores from play. Seán O’Shea — as always — took his frees beautifully, but he is not at the highest level of Gaelic football forwards.
Rather he is an artist from placed balls and given time, can kick points beautifully from play. However, he is not a top line goal-scorer, nor does he have the pace or craft to open a defence like Tyrone’s.
Here, he got one point from play. This came about after Clifford had sent him through on goal with a miraculous hand-pass over his shoulder while he was falling to the ground in the opposite direction.
Presented with the goal chance, O’Shea panicked and just about drove the ball over the bar. Like his other four forward colleagues he was nervy and anonymous, Tyrone calmly swatting them aside.
When the goal chances came for Kerry, they were spurned as a result of this panic. First, with the goal at their mercy in the 21st minute, and Niall Morgan stranded, Paul Geaney hurriedly hand-passed the ball at Stephen O’Brien’s feet. O’Brien, meanwhile, had for some reason stationed himself well inside the square, so when he palmed it to the empty net it was immediately disallowed.
The second botched goal chance was the final disaster, O’Shea crippling Clifford in the 66th minute with a telegraphed hand-pass when a dummy and pause would have left Clifford with an easy palm-in.
Tyrone’s psychological hold over Kerry (save for Clifford) was obvious throughout. This manifested itself in the way Kerry soloed until they over-carried, hand-passed the ball away and rushed their shots.
A flavour: Cillian Spillane over-carried (40). Seán O’Shea hand-passed the ball away (41). Killian Spillane was easily blocked when he took a panicky shot for goal (42). Mike Breen soloed until he stumbled and fell over, resulting in a Tyrone free (47). Stephen O’Brien over-carried — free out (52). Jack Barry hand-passed to Con Kilpatrick (57). Paul Murphy kicked the ball over the sideline after falling mid-solo (61) and so on and so forth.
Tyrone had them by the balls. Cathal McShane and the son of God came on and made excellent contributions.
Both will be fit for the final. This Tyrone team are a tight, happy group. They love Dooher and Logan. They are tough and ruthless and full of football. Like Milwall, no one likes them, but they do not give one damn.
At the final whistle, all that remained was for Pat Spillane to go and have a good puke.
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