By Niall Gartland
HISTORY-CHASING Tyrone Masters are one game away from becoming the first team from the county to win three All-Irelands in-a-row but the men from Kerry will be dead set on putting a halt to their charge.
The two sides are scheduled to meet in the Dr Mick Loftus Cup showdown at the St Brigid’s club in Roscommon this Saturday afternoon and memories will invariably harken back to the glory days of the noughties when Tyrone and Kerry locked swords in a series of mammoth battles in 2003, 2005 and 2008.
The redoubtable Stephen O’Neill and Conor Gormley among others will take to the field this weekend for a late-career crack at the Kingdom and they’ve lost none of their guile or competitive instinct as evidenced by their performances in the last few years for the Tyrone over 40s.
Kerry’s panel is a little less familiar looking than Tyrone’s but they can still call upon hardy midfielder William Kirby who lined out in the 2005 All-Ireland final and Aidan O’Mahony, another uncompromising figure.
They missed their previous two matches en route to the final as they’re unavailable but are expected to line out this weekend.
Tyrone overcame Dublin in the last two finals and their joint-manager Damien Leonard is glad that they’ve something a bit different to contend with on this occasion.
“We haven’t played Kerry before and it’ll help to keep our minds focused on the task ahead. It’s only their second year of Masters football but they beat a really strong Galway team in the semi-final.
“It’s been another mighty season and we’ve no bother with any of our players whether they played with Tyrone or not, they all come out to training on Wednesday night in Garvaghey and it’s a great night. The last couple of matches we’ve been training or having challenge matches at the weekend as well, we have 38 players at training and they’re all champing at the bit to get game-time.”
The Red Hands were in scintillating form in their semi-final clash against Dublin. The final scoreline of 2-11 to 0-3 tells a story of a one-sided contest and Leonard said the one-sided nature of the game didn’t come as a massive surprise to him.
“A lot of lads have told me they thought it would be closer but I wasn’t surprised at all given the way we prepared for the game.
“From the very first whistle we never gave them an inch and Dublin were shell-shocked as they didn’t expect that level of intensity. We were so up for it from the first whistle and I think Dublin didn’t know what hit them.”
The Tyrone Masters are managed by Joe Leonard and his sons Damien and Kieran alongside Eugene Bradley.
The last couple of years have been a big success story and Damien is appreciative of the backing of the county board and others.
“How could you not enjoy it, it’s a pleasure to be involved with such committed players and we’ve been treated very well.
“The County Board helps us a lot, we get the use of Garvaghey, Martin Sludden has been a big help and clubs like Killyclogher, Clogher and Carrickmore have given us anything we’ve asked for which is hugely appreciated as well.”