Colin O'Riordan: Kerry will have too much artillery for Tyrone
The rivalry of all rivalries takes centre stage today in Croke Park as old foes Tyrone and Kerry clash for a place in next month's All-Ireland final.
While the Kingdom may have edged the argument for the team of the noughties with their five Sam Maguire wins, there can be no doubt that Mickey Harte's side won the personal duel with three wins, each sending shockwaves through the GAA.
The Red Hand cast an ominous shadow over the Munster aristocrats during that decade but with things have moved on. Or have they?
Tyrone will come to HQ today with a ferocious intensity that Eamon Fitzmaurice's charges will not have encountered before, and if the game is in the melting pot with ten minutes to go, will those old doubts creep into the Kerry psyche?
What better way to analyse this intriguing contest than to get the thoughts of two men who have experienced first-hand what both teams have to offer this year.
Peter Creedon's Tipperary are the only team to have faced today's All-Ireland contenders in the 2015 championship and the Premier duo of Colin O'Riordan and Brian Fox know exactly what each side is facing into.
"We've played against the likes of Armagh and Fermanagh before but Tyrone's intensity is just on a completely different level. Once you hit the '45 you literally haven't got a second on the ball. When you look up all you see is a sea of white," Fox outlines.
"They've almost taken the defensive system a step further than Donegal because they've got 14 men behind the ball with only Darren McCurry left in attack. If your pass into the forward line isn’t 100% they'll rob you. And punish you."
Tipperary were in with a fighting chance at half-time against Tyrone trailing by a single point but a couple of sloppy mistakes were clinically punished and the Ulster side pulled away for a convincing 12-point win, limiting their opposition to a solitary second-half score.
"We were going well but we fell apart after half-time," O'Riordan reasons. "We had a chance right after the break but dropped a ball into the goalkeeper's hands. They went down the field and that was a two-point swing straight away.
"The cardinal sin is to drop a ball into the keeper's hands and before we knew it we were five or six down and the game was over."
2014 All Star nominee O'Riordan believes that Kerry won't make the same mistakes that that they did and feels that they are more than equipped to deal with the "cynical" play which Tyrone are labelled with.
"Kerry are branded as traditional footballers but make no mistake they know how to foul a lad when they have to," the JK Brackens club man said.
"Tyrone have a bad reputation but Kerry are far from innocent either. If you want to play ball against them they'll play ball, but if you want to be cynical, they can be cynical."
When Tipperary started brightly against Kerry and led after the opening quarter, Fox feels that the defending champions had no problem slowing down the play and that they will do likewise today.
"The only way to stop Tyrone is to foul and be cynical. It breaks momentum and I felt Kerry were cute like that against us," the Éire Óg Annacarty man said.
"Some of their tackles looked clumsy early on but crucially it broke our forward momentum and allowed them to get organised again. There's more to those lads than just football, they're cute out."
The finer arts of Gaelic Football such as long kick passing and high fielding might not be seen to great effect with stakes so high, but having witnessed it first-hand, the admiration for Tyrone's discipline, tackling ability and incredible fitness is clear to see.
"You just have to stay out of the tackle because before you know it you're being hit by three or four lads. They have this uncanny knack of tackling ferociously without fouling," UCD student O'Riordan points out.
"They're seriously disciplined. They gave away no frees inside the '45 against us and they never seem to foul anywhere remotely close to the 'D'."
Fox was amazed at the speed at which they break up the field, he said: "When I pushed up from half-back and the ball was turned over, it's demoralising when you turn to chase back and you see five or six lads sprinting past you. It deflates you."
Neither man predicts a classic but what it might lack in free-flowing football, the tactical warfare being waged on the sidelines by Fitzmaurice and Harte will easily compensate.
"Kerry have serious individuals whereas maybe Tyrone have the greater unity but I just think the Kerry bench will be too strong and they've got too much artillery," 20-year-old O’Riordan reasons.
"Both teams will be packed behind the ball. It worked for Kerry against Donegal last year and I don't think they will stray from that. Fitzmaurice is so tactically good and I just they'll pull away in the last few minutes when it opens up."
Fox concluded: "Kerry will win if their half-forwards take it on down the wing and deliver fast ball inside while Tyrone will prevail if they make it a battle and force them down the middle. It might not be what everyone wants to see but it will be fascinating."
Maybe not one for the purists but gripping entertainment guaranteed. By 5pm another chapter will have been written in the modern-day struggle for Gaelic Football supremacy.
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