Tyrone sheriffs need quick hands to catch Kingdom's snipers
Published 20/08/2015 | 02:30
Something has to give in Sunday's clash of cultures, where a Tyrone defence that hasn't conceded a goal for 387 minutes takes on a Kerry attack that blitzed Kildare with seven goals in 31 minutes in their last game.
It adds yet another intriguing dimension to an already fascinating contest in the battle to book the first slot in this year's All-Ireland football final.
Tyrone's miserly defence has anchored the carefully constructed advance from the disappointment of an Ulster first round defeat by Donegal in May 16 to being one step away from Croke Park in September.
It has been achieved with wins over Limerick, Meath, Tipperary, Sligo and Monaghan, all without conceding a goal. That leaves Martin McElhinney's strike for Donegal just before half-time more than three months ago as the last goal Tyrone have conceded.
It adds to up six hours and 27 minutes without giving away a goal, underlining how remarkably secure their defence has been.
"If you're to score a goal against them, you'll have earned it - that's for sure," said Sligo manager Niall Carew, whose side lost to Tyrone, 0-21 to 0-14, in a fourth round qualifier.
Tyrone will certainly present a more secure defensive alignment than anything Kerry have encountered so far this summer.
Kildare, Cork (draw and replay) and Tipperary were hit for a total of 12 goals by Kerry, for whom Paul Geaney, Barry John Keane, Colm Cooper and Darran O'Sullivan have scored two each. That's an average of three goals per game, with hapless Kildare conceding seven in the second half of the quarter-final.
All of Mickey Harte's teams major in defensive solidity, but he will have concentrated even more than usual on that facet of play after studying Kerry's goal rush.
"Tyrone will set up with two banks of four as they usually do. They know the system inside out; they trust it and they stick with it. They are good at turning over possession and, when they do, they counter-attack at speed," said Carew.
He was also hugely impressed by Tyrone's kick-out strategies ("the best I've seen this year") and by their all-round pressure game.
However, he has reservations about some aspects of Tyrone's set-up and believes that the area between the two defensive banks can be exploited.
"When we came back at them we had some good chances to get more points but missed them. In fact, we had six good chances in a row.
"We were coming off a right scutching by Mayo so confidence wouldn't be as high as you would like but if Kerry get those chances, they'll make them count," said Carew.
Sligo found Mayo a more physically-imposing team than Tyrone and since Kerry are also much further down the development road, it's an area where too may have an advantage.
"Kerry looked very good in the Munster final replay and were brilliant against Kildare. They will find the Tyrone defence much harder to break down than Cork's or Kildare's but they have so many brilliant forwards to choose from that it's hard to see them being kept in check all the time. This is the biggest test Tyrone have faced so far," added Carew.
While the Kerry attack were rattling in goals, their Tyrone counterparts were rebuilding the season, via a steady supply of points.
Tyrone failed to score a goal against Tipperary, Sligo or Monaghan, having earlier scored one each against Limerick and Meath. Their last goal came from a Peter Harte penalty at the three-quarter stage of the clash with Meath.
It means they at the start of play on Sunday, they will have gone three hours and 48 minutes without scoring a goal.
However, they will be encouraged by Kerry's giveaway rate against Tipperary and Cork in the Munster Championship, where they conceded six goals in three games, which is much higher than average from any All-Ireland contenders, let alone the defending champions.
"I wouldn't read too much into that. Kerry usually get things right at this time of year," said Carew.
Tyrone will be seeking their first championship goal in Croke Park since scoring three against Roscommon in the 2011 qualifiers.
Since then, they drew goal blanks against Dublin (2011 All-Ireland quarter-final), Monaghan and Mayo (2013 quarter-final and semi-final), Sligo and Monaghan (2015 qualifier and quarter-final).