Kerry draw comfort to consign old foes Tyrone to second tier
Tyrone 0-17 Kerry1-14
No winner or loser in the actual game but the fruits of a draw were altogether sweeter for Kerry in a wonderfully exciting clash in Omagh.
A share of the points ensured that the Kingdom stay in Division 1, while Tyrone drop to Division 2 after a frustrating campaign where home advantage yielded little return.
Tyrone fans in the 5,400 crowd really got behind their team yesterday in an attempt to provide that extra impetus that might prove the difference.
However, it wasn't quite enough as Kerry grabbed the precious point that kept them in the top flight.
Indeed, they came very close to squeezing into the semi-finals (a win by any margin would have been enough): they led deep in stoppage-time, but Darren McCurry's equalising point denied them a fourth-place finish and a clash with Cork next Sunday.
Still, remaining in Division 1 will keep them satisfied for now, before they turn their attention to the big attempt to retain the All-Ireland title. They will do so with Colm Cooper back on board, after his return to action in the 63rd minute.
He looked very sharp in his first game for Kerry since the 2013 All-Ireland semi-final and played a crucial role in setting up Kieran Donaghy for the lead point in the 69th minute.
"It's great to see him back. He has worked hard so it's great for him to finally get a bit of closure on his injury. He is back and has played a competitive game and is ready to go now," said manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice.
The League has been a confusing mix for Kerry, with Fitzmaurice seeing yesterday's game as typical of their entire campaign.
"We have been good in games and poor in games - today was a mixed bag too. Still, we did enough to stay in Division 1, which is very important," said Fitzmaurice.
There was no such reprieve for Tyrone on a day when they had to perform without the guiding influence of Mickey Harte on the sideline. He is recovering from a surgical procedure and while he met the squad yesterday morning, he did not make it to Healy Park.
No doubt, he watched the game closely on TG4 and while he will be disappointed with the overall League campaign, there was much to encourage him for the Ulster championship launch against Donegal next month.
Selectors Gavin Devlin, Peter Donnelly, accompanied by Tony Donnelly, Harte's former assistant, took charge yesterday and came very close to delivering what would have been a memorable victory.
"We had serious plans to stay in the division, but that didn't happen. Ultimately though, there is only one goal, the first round of the championship, and we have six weeks to prepare for it so it's game on now," said Devlin.
"It was a tough week. I wouldn't want to be going out there too often without him (Harte). We need him back and we need him back ASAP, " added Devlin.
Most of the drama was packed into the second half after Tyrone led by 0-8 to 0-7 at half-time. Two of Kerry's points were from long-range frees from Bryan Sheehan which, while brilliantly kicked, probably weren't justified in the first place.
Tyrone had every reason to be annoyed with referee Joe McQuillan over those calls, one of which earned Sean Cavanagh a harsh booking.
Cavanagh's accuracy from frees, plus his usual driving game, were very important to Tyrone and he had an accomplished accomplice up front in McCurry. He scored 0-7 (0-4 from play) in a fine display.
Mattie Donnelly, named at centre-forward but playing mostly in defence with a license to surge forward, Peter Harte and Cathal McCarron also did very well.
Sub Paul Geaney was among Kerry's best performers after replacing Barry John Keane in the 18th minute. He top-scored on 1-2, the goal coming in the 45th minute after Darran O'Sullivan's effort was blocked.
Cavanagh had a chance to level it up shortly afterwards but he blazed wide. Kerry led by four points heading into the final quarter, but Tyrone battled back and were level by the 64th minute.
Kerry twice took the lead in the closing minutes with points from Anthony Maher and Donaghy, who was a more prominent figure in the second half, but McCurry levelled it up on both occasions.
However, Tyrone just couldn't edge in front, a failure which sentenced them to Division 2 football next season.
They will feel that they deserved better but then some of their performances, notably against Monaghan and Donegal, fell way short of the required level.
Yesterday's effort was much more encouraging, even if it didn't deliver the required result.
"We're disappointed but it's all about the Donegal game now," said Devlin.
He has no doubt that the mood in the camp is in perfect condition for what will be a huge challenge.
"Our pride is always intact. We're from Tyrone for God's sake," he said.
Kerry face a 10-week wait for the start of their championship campaign, prior to which they have a training week in Portugal.
Extending their League season into the semi-finals would have been helpful, although not absolutely vital as they showed last year.
"There's a lot of club activity to get through and we'll see where we are after that," said Fitzmaurice.
Cooper's return saw the League out on a positive note, while O'Sullivan also did well when he came on. With James O'Donoghue to return, Kerry's firepower will be pretty impressive later on.
As for Tyrone, they will be disappointed to fall out of the top eight but are still far being a beaten docket in championship terms.
Man of the Match: Darren McCurry (Tyrone)
Scorers - Tyrone: D McCurry 0-7 (4fs), S Cavanagh 0-6 (6fs), M Donnelly, P Harte, R McNabb, Joe McMahon 0-1 each. Kerry: P Geaney 1-2, B Sheehan 0-4 (3fs), P Murphy, J Buckley 0-2 each, K Donaghy, D O'Sullivan, A Maher, D Moran 0-1 each.
Tyrone - S Curran 7; A McCrory 7, R McNamee 6, C Macaroon 7; R McNabb 7 Justin McMahon 7, P Harte 8; C Cavanagh 7, P McNulty 5; T McCann 5, M Donnelly 8, R McKenna 6; D McCurry 9, S Cavanagh 8, P Hughes 6. Subs: Joe McMahon 6 for McNulty (ht),C McAliskey 6for Hughes (ht), PJ Lavery 6 for T McCann (55), R O'Neill 6 for Justin McMahon (58), C McCann 6 for McKenna (68).
Kerry - B Kealy 7; P Murphy 7, M Griffin 6, S Enright 6; J Lyne 7, P Crowley 7, K Young 7; A Maher 7, D Moran 7, A Fitzgerald 5, B Sheehan 7, J Buckley 7; S O'Brien 5, K Donaghy 7, BJ Keane 5. Subs: P Geaney 8 for Keane (15), D O'Sullivan 7 for Fitzgerald (ht), T Walsh 6 for O'Brien (42, BC), M O Se 6 for Crowley (53), C Cooper 7 for Sheehan (63), F Fitzgerald for Young (65).
Ref -J McQuillan (Cavan)
NFL: ups and downs
Dublin remain on course to win the Allianz football League Division 1 title for a third successive year after their easy march into the semi-finals with a win over Monaghan yesterday.
They will meet Monaghan again in the semi-final next Sunday, while Cork, who topped Division 1, take on Donegal.
Tyrone and Derry are relegated from Division 1, replaced by Down and Roscommon, who topped Division 2.
Leinster pair Kildare and Westmeath drop out of Division 2 and will be replaced by Armagh and Fermanagh. Louth and Wexford will drop out of Division 3.
Longford and Offaly will be promoted from Division 4.