Kerry must overcome Tyrone's experience to book final berth

All Ireland SFC Semi-Final: Kerry v Tyrone, Sunday August 11, Croke Park, 3.30pm

Sean O'Shea of Kerry and Matthew Donnelly of Tyrone during the Allianz Football League Division 1 Round 1 match in January at Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney, Kerry. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Sean O'Shea of Kerry and Matthew Donnelly of Tyrone during the Allianz Football League Division 1 Round 1 match in January at Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney, Kerry. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Kerry's David Clifford

Damian Stack

Sometimes we forget. We forget just how young this Kerry team is. We forget just how many championship debuts have been handed out in the last fifteen months - sixteen in all, with fourteen of those footballers still very much involved with Peter Keane's set-up.

We can't stress it enough. This is a young Kerry team. This is a new Kerry team. Yes, it's back-boned by guys from the 2014 campaign - Paul Murphy, David Moran, Stephen O'Brien and Paul Geaney - but for at least half this team (if not a majority) this is new territory.

Seán O'Shea and David Clifford (who we expect to be fit for the match) might play as though they're fully mature, experienced footballers, but this is their first All Ireland senior football semi-final.

Same goes for Jason Foley. For Gavin Crowley. For Gavin White. For Dara Moynihan. For Micheál Burns. For Killian Spillane. For Adrian Spillane. For Diarmuid O'Connor. For Graham O'Sullivan.

A lot of these guys have fewer than ten championship appearances to their name. Some have fewer even than five. No matter how good these guys are, no matter how good these guys will go on to become, this has to be borne in mind.

We need to temper our expectations of them just a little. Not that they'll temper them of themselves, nor should they, they're winners. As interested (and disinterested) observers, however, we can afford to take a slightly broader view.

To acknowledge that inasmuch as all this fresh blood has given Kerry a new lease of life - and it absolutely has - there are also potential downsides to it in the short term. Experience counts for something and we believe that will almost certainly be the case on Sunday afternoon on Jones' Road.

Tyrone are playing in their third All Ireland senior football semi-final in-a-row. They were in last year's All Ireland senior football final. The Red hand knows what it's all about in a way lot - although obviously not all - of this Kerry side does not... not yet.

It doesn't mean that Kerry can't win - as we've said these guys are winners and they're no strangers to Croke Park - but it makes the hurdle they have to clear this weekend that little bit higher.

The flip side of that is that the Kingdom will come unburdened, without any baggage or any hang-ups, under none of the pressure Tyrone will feel to get back to the level they were at this time last year when they saw off Monaghan.

Until Sunday afternoon, though, we just won't know and that we don't know - we have intuitions and suspicions and educated guesses - is what makes sport the glorious thing it is. Is this Kerry team ready for the big time? It might be, it probably will be, we just can't say for certain.

And, by the way, even if they are ready for the big time, that doesn't mean they'll have enough in the tank to get over the line against this Tyrone side, who will bring a level of intensity and aggression they haven't experienced all season.

After shifting to a more expansive style of football throughout the league - after a pretty disastrous visit to Fitzgerald Stadium on the last weekend of January - Tyrone have reverted to something closer to the style that brought them to last year's All Ireland final in the wake of defeat at the hands of Donegal in Ulster.

Even so their scoring rate hasn't much dipped. When they get a run on a team, this Tyrone side can be devastating. Sure they don't quite have the level of talent in the front six or on the bench that Kerry do, but they're more than adequately stocked with talent.

Cathal McShane has been a revelation this year, while the ability to push Matthew Donnelly into an advanced position - as they did in the Super 8 game with Cork - means they can switch it up fairly easily during the game and that's something Mickey Harte has always been able to do effectively. He's nearly better at reading a game and making switches than he is at setting a team up in the first place

Whatever else this game is going to be, we can't see it being anything other than a dogfight. Tight and tough and tense. If Kerry are going to win it they're going to have to battle it out, they're going to have to match Tyrone's controlled aggression and intensity.

Can Kerry do that? Are they ready to do that? Again it's an open question. You can point to how they turned the screws on Mayo in Killarney after having had the screws turned on them in the league final... but can we read a huge amount into that Mayo performance? James Horan's men have improved a lot in the four weeks since then.

Tyrone will certainly look to target Kerry at kick-out time as Meath did last weekend. They'll look to disrupt and rattle Shane Ryan. Kerry will probably try to do something similar to Niall Morgan down the other end, but Morgan is that bit more experienced and composed than his Kingdom counterpart.

A lot will depend on David Moran - if only for the simple reason he doesn't really have a settled partner right now. It'll depend on whether or not Kerry can get the game played on his terms, whether Tyrone are able to break it off him if it's sent long from either of the two keepers.

If Kerry struggle for primary ball will the forwards get enough supply to rack up the scores? And even if they do will they be able to get through often enough to put the scores on the board?

We think they will, the quality of the Kerry front six - with David Clifford set to return don't forget - is such that they'll find a way often enough to make it count, even if Kerry manage to win less than 50% possession at kick-out time.

Look Kerry could be against it in a major way in this final and the odds are that they will be and if they are on the back foot is the Kerry defence strong enough to hold out against McShane and Donnelly and Peter Harte and Darren McCurry and these guys or even Kyle Coney who looked a bit special in last weekend's Coma in Omagh?

Speaking of which, are Tyrone are an advantage to have been able to select a B team last Sunday while Kerry had to play their strongest possible side to ensure passage to the semi-finals?

It's another one of those unknowns. Mickey Harte undoubtedly felt it an advantage to rest his side, but there's a chance that Kerry are better off having played a game, carrying the momentum from Saturday in Navan with them, while the vast bulk of the Tyrone starting fifteen haven't had a game in three weeks. In hindsight only will we be able to answer that.

This is a really exciting match because so much is unknown. It's the true acid test of this young Kerry side. We wouldn't trust anybody who tells you with absolute certainty how it's going to go.

For our part we wouldn't be at all surprised if Tyrone won the match. We wouldn't be at all surprised if Kerry did. Our gut tells us that Kerry will have a bit too much football for Tyrone, but we're not going to be rushing down to the bookies at the same time.

It promises to be one hell of a battle.

Verdict: Kerry

Kerryman

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