Tyrone's careful rebuild unlikely to withstand champions' momentum
Published 22/08/2015 | 02:30
Since it was offered in the immediate aftermath of Tyrone's Ulster first round defeat by Donegal, a comment by Mickey Harte went largely ignored .
"That was as good as Tyrone have played in a number of years in any game," he said.
Still, their provincial race was already run by mid-May and, with the All-Ireland qualifiers six weeks away, interest in Tyrone's possible roll in the All-Ireland championship receded into the background, overtaken by the busy schedules unfolding elsewhere around the country.
The clouds were low and weeping as Tyrone left Ballybofey after the Donegal defeat, but Harte sensed a silver lining. Maybe the season could open up before them after all.
It's 14 weeks tomorrow since Harte made that positive remark, the prescience of which is now apparent as Tyrone prepare for an All-Ireland semi-final while many higher-ranked contenders have checked out.
There's nothing new about Tyrone harnessing the qualifiers as a means of reviving their All-Ireland ambitions, so the question now is whether they can, as an extension of Harte's comment of more than three months ago, play better than "in a number of years in any game".
They will need to against Kerry, an altogether more formidable presence than Monaghan, who never got to grips with Tyrone in the quarter-final.
"We just didn't have enough people playing well enough to win the game," said Monaghan manager Malachy O'Rourke.
Of course, that was no accident. Tyrone are masters at frustrating the opposition into submission in a sticky defensive web before driving forward with well-organised counter-attacking thrusts.
Monaghan never quite figured out a means of unlocking that system and, in the end, were left wondering how they could beat Donegal, who had mastered Tyrone, yet looked so bereft of invention against Harte's forces.
Kerry will be different. They have the capacity to play any opposition at their own game, as they showed yet again last year when engaging Mayo in an open encounter before successfully locking onto Donegal mode for the All-Ireland final.
Besides, Kerry have better forwards than Monaghan. In fact, they have several forwards on the bench who would have got on the Monaghan team.
That Kerry can afford to keep Paul Geaney, Bryan Sheehan, Barry John Keane, Darran O'Sullivan, Tommy Walsh and Paul Galvin in reserve underlines the happy position in which Eamonn Fitzmaurice & Co found themselves at selection time.
Geaney, Sheehan and Keane scored 4-29 (0-13 frees) between them so far, yet can't squeeze into the starting line-up. That's some luxury for Kerry.
Fitzmaurice might have noted too that while the Tyrone's solidity has been attracting positive reviews, Sligo manager Niall Carew suggested that there's profit to be made among their defenders and their two banks of four set-up.
Neither Sligo, who lost to Tyrone by seven points, nor Monaghan had the finishers to exploit that but Kerry certainly do.
"Kerry have so many brilliant forwards to choose from that it's hard to see them being kept in check all the time," said Carew. He also believes that the absence of Joe McMahon will be very damaging for Tyrone.
Kerry have averaged 3-12 in their last four games and while that was greatly enhanced by a 7-16 yield against Kildare, they earlier hit Cork for 2-15 in the drawn Munster final. That game will have been of considerable interest to Harte, since Cork countered with 3-12, an unusually high return at this level. He will also have noted that Mayo hit Kerry for 1-16 in last year's drawn semi-final, followed by 3-11 in normal time in the replay.
It points to poor security in the Kerry defence and while Tyrone are notoriously goal-shy they are very good at point-scoring, averaging almost 20 against Monaghan, Sligo and Tipperary.
It's unlikely they will reach that level tomorrow and even more unlikely they will stop the Kerry attack running up a winning score.
Kerry - B Kealy; P Murphy, M Ó Sé, S Enright; J Lyne, P Crowley, K Young; A Maher, D Moran; S O'Brien, J Buckley, D Walsh; C Cooper, K Donaghy (capt), J O'Donoghue.
Tyrone - N Morgan, A McCrory, R McNamee, C McCarron, R McNabb, Justin McMahon, P Harte, C Cavanagh, M Donnelly, T McCann, M Bradley, C Meyler, D McCurry, S Cavanagh, C McAliskey.