ALL-IRELAND SFC QUARTER-FINAL
Tyrone v Kerry
Sunday, Croke Park, 3.45pm
Live on GAA GO
By Niall Gartland
WHO’D have anticipated a quarter of a century ago that Tyrone would go on to form one of the great gaelic footballing rivalries with the bluebloods from Kerry?
Their looming All-Ireland quarter-final date has conjured up memories of those halcyon days of 2003, 2005 and 2008 but perhaps more to to forefront in people’s thinking is their most recent championship tussle – Tyrone’s stunning and altogether unexpected All-Ireland semi-final win on a hazy summer’s day in 2021.
Conor McKenna’s goals, Niall Morgan’s free-kick from another solar system (the longest free by distance ever converted in Croke Park, they say) and perhaps more than anything else – the rabid tackling and blistering counter-attacks from a group of players who left absolutely everything on the pitch.
In our book there’s been more than a whiff of revisionism about that match – I’ve even heard Tyrone men suggest that we’d have lost that game if David Clifford wasn’t forced off with injury before the start of extra-time. Then there’s the narrative perpetuated in the deep south – that Tyrone had done a number on the Kingdom with their ‘Covid shenanigans’ leading into the match. Pfft – the Red Hands played swathes of the second-half down to 14 men due to two black cards and still came out on top, and didn’t they go and claim a relatively cushy five-point victory in the All-Ireland final against Mayo a mere fortnight later?
So that’s part of the backdrop to Saturday’s blockbuster billing at Croke Park, and there’s more: Jack O’Connor was a mere spectator in the stands for 2021 and he’s back on the line for this one. It’s fair to say this isn’t his first rodeo with Tyrone, and he suggested in a podcast interview shortly after their All-Ireland semi-final defeat two years ago that he knew exactly where they’d gone wrong on the day. There’s also the Paddy Tally factor, the Galbally native who crossed enemy lines and played as big a role as any in Kerry’s return to the summit last year.
And how about Tyrone’s formidable recent record against the Kingdom? They’ve won four of their last five matches against the green and gold, the most recent being a league-defining win on home soil in early march. Whatever it is about the Kingdom, Tyrone rarely underperform on these days so there’s a cautious optimism simmering in the Red Hand County since the draw was announced on Monday morning.
These big championship matches oft take on a life of their own but there’s a few things we can safely anticipate when the ball is thrown in at 3.45pm this Saturday. One of Tyrone’s big guns will pick up David Clifford – it was Ronan McNamee back in 2021 and Padraig Hampsey when they met in the league.
At the other end of the pitch, Kerry will task their ace man-markers with attempting to curtail the wily Darragh Canavan and Darren McCurry.
In Tom O’Sullivan and Jason Foley, they have some of the best man-markers in the game so it’ll make for riveting viewing. Also expect Conor Meyler to shadow his old friend Paudie Clifford, one of the men who really makes the Kingdom tick.
The midfield battle has the potential to be a defining one – Conn Kilpatrick and Brian Kennedy are having brilliant seasons and it hasn’t gone unnoticed that Kerry don’t seem to carry the same heft in the middle since David Moran announced his retirement back in January.
The final scoreline in 2021 read 3-14 to 0-22 in Tyrone’s favour. Two of the goals came from Conor McKenna, a play who seemed to play very much off the cuff and has now returned back to the AFL. The other was a late goal from Cathal McShane, who scored 1-3 from the bench in a hugely important contribution. He hasn’t played a minute of championship football this year due to injury, albeit he was named on the bench against Donegal last Saturday.
But there’s reason to believe that Tyrone can still rack up a big tally against Kerry if they play to their potential – Ruairi Canavan has added unpredictability to the Tyrone forward unit, Mattie Donnelly contributed three very nice points indeed against Donegal, the midfielders are weighing in and Michael McKernan is always good for a point or two. Probably the biggest question is whether they can curtail Kerry at the other end of the pitch – the Kingdom are racking up massive scores (a 5-24 to 0-11 win over Louth the other week tells its own story) and in David Clifford they have the player of a generation.
If they keep him quiet, and it’s obviously a big if, then for our money Tyrone have a serious chance of doing the business. But again, it’s a big if…
2023 Tyrone 1-15 Kerry 2-9 (Omagh)
TYRONE picked up two valuable points with victory over Kerry with dogged defending to drag themselves off the bottom of the Division 1 table.
Despite conceding goals early in both halves, the Red Hands had the resolve to carve out a morale-boosting win.
Mattie Donnelly rolled back the years with a vintage performance, his three-point contribution from full forward telling just a fraction of a story of massive contribution all over the field.
Tyrone: N Morgan; M McKernan, P Hampsey, C Quinn (0-1); C Meyler, C Munroe, P Harte (0-1); B Kennedy, C Kilpatrick (0-1); F Burns, D Mulgrew (0-1), J Oguz (0-1); D McCurry (0-3f), M Donnelly (0-3), D Canavan (0-2)
Subs: N Sludden for D Mulgrew (40), N Devlin for C Munroe (52), R Canavan (0-2f) for D McCurry (68), R Donnelly for B Kennedy (73)
Kerry: S Ryan (1-0 own goal); G O’Sullivan, J Foley, T O’Sullivan (0-1); T Brosnan (0-2, 1m), T Morley, P Murphy (1-0); J Barry, S Okunbar; D Moynihan, S O’Shea (1-2, 1f), P Warren; P Clifford, D Clifford (0-3, 2f), D Roche
Subs: D O’Sullivan (0-1) for D Roche (HT), R Murphy for T Brosnan (45), M Burns for P Clifford (54), G Horan for S Okunbar (58)
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
2023 Tyrone 1-15 Kerry 2-9 – NFL Div 1
2022 Kerry 2-11 Tyrone 1-15 – NFL Div 1
2021 Tyrone 3-14 Kerry 0-22 AET – All-Ireland semi-final
2021 Kerry 6-15 Tyrone 1-14 – NFL Div 1
2020 Tyrone 0-14 Kerry 0-13 – NFL Div 1
SEASON SO FAR
Tyrone 0-17 Fermanagh 1-7
Derry 0-10 Tyrone 0-10
Tyrone 0-15 Cavan 0-10
Derry 3-11 Tyrone 1-5
Roscommon 3-11 Tyrone 1-12
Donegal 0-8 Tyrone 0-16
Galway 0-16 Tyrone 0-13
Mayo 4-10 Tyrone 0-12
Tyrone 1-15 Kerry 2-9
Monaghan 0-13 Tyrone 2-15
Tyrone 0-18 Armagh 0-16
Tyrone 1-18 Monaghan 2-17
Galway 0-16 Tyrone 0-13
Tyrone 0-13 Armagh 0-11
Tyrone 0-18 Westmeath 0-18
Donegal 0-13 Tyrone 1-18
Cork 5-11 Kerry 0-14
Kerry 0-14 Clare 0-13
Donegal 0-13 Kerry 1-9
Kerry 3-16 Monaghan 0-14
Mayo 2-14 Kerry 1-10
Kerry 0-12 Armagh 0-11
Tyrone 1-15 Kerry 2-9
Kerry 1-12 Roscommon 0-12
Galway 1-13 Kerry 0-14
Kerry 0-25 Tipperary 0-5
Kerry 5-14 Clare 0-15
Kerry 0-17 Mayo 1-19
Cork 0-15 Kerry 1-14
Kerry 5-24 Louth 0-11
Darren McCurry 1-55 (34f, 1m)
Darragh Canavan 1-45 (14f)
Cathal McShane 0-15 (4f, 2m)
Peter Harte 1-12 (5f, 1 pen)
David Clifford 6-39 (19f, 2 pen, 1m)
Sean O’Shea 2-37 (18f, 2m , 4 ‘45’)
Tony Brosnan 1-31 (13f, 2m)