Kingdom now in a good place for championship
I GOT a phone call during the week from one of the current Kerry players who I hadn't spoke to in a while.
When you spend most of your football life together, friendships are formed that last a lifetime and players still stay in touch with each other as much as their busy lives, on and off the field, allows them.
The call started off with a bit of small talk, but soon turned to the important issues. He told me that the training camp in Portugal had gone very well and the players were really looking forward to the battle in Omagh that awaited them. I could really sense by the way he was talking that this Kerry team is gaining momentum and really wanted to prove a point against Tyrone.
I still could not have predicted after our conversation the dominant and classy display Kerry put on in the first half on Sunday. Yes, the strong breeze at their backs was an advantage, but when you have a strong wind you need to make use of it and Kerry did that expertly.
When Tomás Ó Sé finished another incisive move to the Tyrone net in the 32nd minute it brought our first half scoring tally to 1-13 and it didn't flatter us. Tomás gave an outstanding display from wing-back, constantly raiding from deep, ending up with 1-1, the man of the match award and another nice dust collector for the mantelpiece.
He typified the Kerry work rate and excellent support play shown throughout the game. I lost count of the amount of times Tomás, Marc, Killian Young and Brian McGuire burst forward to take the ball at pace off our midfield and half-forwards. Even Mark Griffin on occasion drove out from full-back to be the man on the shoulder.
It gave us a great base to attack from and our inside line duly obliged by kicking some super scores. Kerry continued to dominate all areas of the field and even though Tyrone threatened with a few goal chances, they were finding it difficult to halt Kerry in their tracks.
The winning of most games these days comes down to who can get on top in that 'middle eight' sector. In the first half, when the ball was in there, it just seemed to end up with a man wearing green and gold. Paul Galvin looked like his old self, winning breaks, turning over ball from great tackling and using the ball wisely. Gally looks fit and raring to go, which is only good news for Kerry.
Anthony Maher and Johnny Buckley's partnership is getting better with every game. Even when Tyrone started coming at us in the second half, which was inevitable, they weren't allowed to come straight down the centre and credit to the two lads for that. If they both avoid injury, they have to start as 8 and 9 come the Championship.
Colm Cooper looked liked he enjoyed his role as chief playmaker. It must have been a strange feeling for him not to be handed the number 13 jersey before the game although Declan O'Sullivan showed his versatility with a very good display in the corner. Gooch has this unique talent of finding a team mate with a pass that nobody else on the field would see, never mind attempt.
He hit one to Donaghy for his first score on Sunday that was sublime. I would expect Colm to stay on the 'forty' for the summer. Kieran put in a fine performance on Sunday. Apart from his three points from play, he was a constant target inside and put himself about, especially when he came out around the middle in the second half when we needed to win some possession.
Darran O'Sullivan looked sharper than I have seen him in recent weeks. This game was played at a championship pace and the field looked lively. This is where Darran comes in to his own with his explosive speed. Being pretty nimble myself, I would look forward to the summer months when the fields would harden up and I'm sure Darran is the same.
Jonathan Lyne, after another very good day out, is really putting himself in the frame for a starting place against Tipperary in May. His role in the team seems to be as defensive wing-forward, but on Sunday he kicked a sweet point and came within the width of a post of notching a goal. He has had a good league in a position that he probably wouldn't have envisaged playing in.
So after all the positives, how was it that Tyrone nearly caught us in the end?
Well, a few factors have to be taken into account here. After a week away with training and travel, the Kerry players were always going to tire, which they did. The strong wind also helped the home side and, like Kerry in the first period, they used it well. Kerry did lose a big lead and will be unhappy with the last 10 minutes when they could have seen the game out, but turned over possession too easily. However, any day you come out of Healy Park with a win is a good day and a great boost for the team and management coming into the Championship.
And, of course, it means that we will remain at the top table of league football, which is an added bonus. Paul Mannion probably didn't know at the time, but it was his injury-time point for Dublin against Donegal that secured our safety.
Kerry did what they needed to do with fine win and after all the doom and gloom earlier in the year, they now look in a good place.