Eugene McGee: Kerry lose concentration to give major Harte boost
In recent years we have had more exciting and entertaining league games than the championship has provided. This weekend was a typical example with plenty of drama, excitement and upsets.
The match of the weekend was the latest instalment of the ongoing Kerry-Tyrone rivalry which has raged for most of the last decade. This time it was Tyrone who snatched the priceless league points, and the bragging rights, with the last play of the game in Omagh.
And it was the manner of Tyrone's smash-and-grab victory that may be the most important factor. If ever a team needed a major psychological boost it was Tyrone and the grin on Mickey Harte's face as he ran onto the field at the end was proof of that.
When you have a great collection of players who have been around for a while but look like they may have run their course, then a sensational victory against the odds is the surest way of changing the whole direction of the team.
Whether Tyrone can keep improving once the championship swings into action is unkown, but it certainly alerts all others, especially Kerry, to the reality that it could well happen, thereby giving us three contenders for the Sam Maguire: Kerry, Cork and Tyrone. The fact that Tyrone also beat the Rebels two weeks ago in Omagh simply adds to the intrigue of the situation.
This is a result that Kerry will not feel good about. Despite playing more good football for longer periods they still managed to lose control in the vital final 15 minutes. The reckless foul which led to Aidan O'Mahony getting a red card with 10 minutes remaining opened the door for Tyrone.
The home team had been a man short just after half-time when Cathal McCarron was sent off, but O'Mahony's absence from the Kerry rearguard proved crucial as the inevitable rally from Tyrone soon started and the visitors lost their focus.
The space vacated by the Rathmore defender allowed Tyrone to start coming in waves in a desperate attempt to overcome the five-point deficit, but they made heavy work of it with only two pointed frees and one from play by Martin Penrose narrowing the gap.
When Owen Mulligan kicked the easiest of frees wide from 20 yards in the 70th minute that seemed to be it, but then came the dramatic goal from Colm Cavanagh, helped by the extra-time played under the experimental rules which prevent referees blowing for full-time until the ball has gone out of play and also by the relaxation of the 'square ball' rule in the league.
This was a high-powered game of football even if many of the superstars of recent years were absent from both teams. It was a very hard, tough game and referee Padraig Hughes was taking no chances with nearly half the players getting yellow cards. In keeping with this year's trend in the league, many of these yellow cards were for innocuous fouls.
I am waiting to see how referees, who have been dishing out yellow and red cards with abandon in the league, will behave in the months of June, July and August this year. It will be interesting to compare the number of cards applied in league games as opposed to the big championship games. Watch this space.
Apart from the result, Kerry will be fairly happy with their long trip up to Omagh. At times they played some great football, particularly in the forwards, but must regret taking so long to come to grips with the revamped Tyrone line-out in the first quarter which allowed the home team breeze into a 0-5 to 0-2 lead.
But once Kerry got settled, tightened up at the back with a lot of help from midfielder Seamus Scanlon and got good ball to their forwards, Kerry cut Tyrone to ribbons with four quick points in four minutes before the break to lead 0-7 to 0-6.
After the break when McCarron was sent off for a second yellow, Kerry really should have put Tyrone out of sight when they went 1-9 to 0-7 ahead. Maybe the flood of yellow cards to Kerry players began to cause panic in the ranks but they certainly lost their concentration in the final 10 minutes and the arrival of several subs probably did not help.
What Kerry people want to know is how the newcomers to the team are shaping up and all evidence shows that it is looking good. David Moran had his best game yet while new goalkeeper Brendan Kealy really proved his mettle in what were trying conditions. David O'Callaghan also impressed, but the one obvious observation is that most of their new players are forwards. Perhaps, more new blood is needed in the Kerry defence and Tomas O Se's return will be very welcome.
Kerry and Tyrone's immediate concern is to avoid relegation, but with both counties currently lying on four points and with home games to follow against Monaghan for Kerry and Dublin for Tyrone, neither county is yet out of the woods and neither will fancy being demoted to Division 2.
- GAA people complain a lot, but I have rarely heard so much giving out right across the country as has been directed at RTE Radio since the league started this season.
Anything up to half a dozen league games - in both hurling and football - take place on Saturday nights but, incredibly, no live coverage is given by RTE Radio, even though they are mostly attractive Division 1 and 2 games.
This seems extraordinary even by RTE standards. Could you imagine a batch of Premier League midweek games not being covered, let alone mentioned live, on the BBC?
The GAA public should be very grateful for the local radio stations because they know their GAA and what it means to the Irish public. Unfortunately for thousands living away from their native county, these stations are often not available which is where RTE should come in -- as a national radio station.