Monday 19 February 2018

O'Connor hails sweet redemption

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

The last time Kerry won a qualifier match on home soil, two of their greatest names fell foul of a drink curfew in the aftermath and were dropped for the next outing eight days later.

The mood for such enforcement could not have existed again on Saturday evening as one of the lingering anomalies of modern Gaelic football was put to rest. This was one for them to celebrate.

It could never be a case of revenge for many of these Kerry players for the two All-Ireland final defeats by Tyrone they experienced. An All-Ireland final is just too big for that.

But they'll find some peace in the knowledge that the record books will look at this period of history in their sport a little differently now.


They can beat a Mickey Harte-coached Tyrone team after all. Not the same team that piled on so much misery in the last decade, but a Tyrone team nonetheless.

They didn't just beat them, they dished out the heaviest championship defeat of the Harte era to Tyrone, eclipsing the seven-point reverse to Dublin in last year's All-Ireland quarter-final. Not since they lost by 12 points to Derry in the 1997 Ulster semi-final has a Tyrone team suffered by such a margin.

In front of a home crowd of 24,370 (the highest attendance for a football qualifier outside Croke Park), on a blistering Killarney evening, it seemed as fitting a place as any to bring closure to a difficult subplot for Kerry football. It was enough to move Paul Galvin close to tears in a TV interview afterwards.

Jack O'Connor did a better job of keeping his emotions in check, stressing that it was just another step back to where they want to be. But O'Connor did admit that defeat here had been unthinkable and that it may even have signalled the end of this great Kerry team.

"We knew during the week that there was going to be a massive Kerry crowd here and it would be unthinkable to lose in front of them," said O'Connor.

"They've backed us through thick and thin, we've had some great days together and we wanted to get back to Croke Park. We felt we left an All-Ireland behind us last year, and that's not taking anything away from the Dubs.

"We just want to get back into a quarter-final and it would have been awful to lose in front of our own supporters. We haven't lost in 17 years here. It would have been an awful way for this team to finish up."

His players echoed even more the importance of the win in its historical context. Galvin talked of eight or 10 years of hurt, while Kieran Donaghy also referenced pain.

"You have the pain of defeat. For me that would be losing two All-Ireland finals to them. You have that pain buried deep down in your stomach coming into a game like this," he said.

Galvin described some of the things written and said about the Kingdom prior to Saturday's game as being disrespectful.

Presumably, a suggestion that Colm Cooper might choke again -- Joe Brolly's words -- prompted Galvin's complaint, but Cooper had been one of Kerry's better players in the All-Ireland final defeats to Tyrone, and he was majestic here.

He finished with five points, four from play, and delivered some of the most exquisite passes you are likely to see in this championship. The old telepathy between himself, Donaghy, Galvin and Declan O'Sullivan was back working again.

Cooper's pass to Bryan Sheehan that led to Donaghy's 45th-minute goal, in quick response to Tyrone's -- which came via a deflection off Conor Gormley's body after Brendan Kealy had parried Joe McMahon's shot -- was the most sublime moment of the evening.

Perhaps only O'Sullivan influenced the victory more, especially in the opening half, though Anthony Maher and Sheehan continue to develop into a formidable ball-playing midfield partnership that held sway for so long against a variety of Tyrone pairings.

In relaunching Sheehan as a midfielder and putting Eoin Brosnan into centre-back, O'Connor has established two pillars of this team now that looked unlikely 18 months ago.

Kerry's defence was immense throughout. Shane Enright subdued Martin Penrose, Aidan O'Mahony controlled Owen Mulligan, while Killian Young pushed up on Peter Harte. With Galvin nailing just about everything in white and red, Kerry looked secure.

Kerry really should have been further than 0-8 to 0-4 ahead at the break, as they had the wind and momentum. It had been a fractious half. Seven players were booked by the 20th minute, with confrontations springing up everywhere.

Harte was critical of the number of cards shown by referee David Coldrick -- 17, including a red to Brian McGuigan for barging into O'Sullivan -- but clearly Coldrick was trying to keep a lid on a potential powder keg and was taking no chances. It has never been his style to be loose with cards.

Tyrone tried to slow Kerry momentum in the first half. Kerry sought to protect their lead, and when no one was prepared to back down, it got messy. Donaghy would later describe it as "chippy".

When the euphoria subsides, Kerry will realise that they have beaten a Tyrone team a lot less further down the road of transition than it looked during the league. For once, they looked unsure of a plan. Division 1 football will benefit them and Harte now has a real challenge in front of him.

O'Connor will hope the result can provide a spark that fires his side for the rest of the summer.

Scorers -- Kerry: C Cooper 0-5 (1f), K Donaghy 1-1, Declan O'Sullivan, B Sheehan (3f) 0-3 each, J O'Donoghue 0-2, P Galvin, P Curtin 0-1 each. Tyrone: C Gormley 1-0, A Cassidy, D McCurry, C Clarke, C Cavanagh, Sean O'Neill, M Penrose 0-1 each.

KERRY -- B Kealy 7; M O Se 7, A O'Mahony 7, S Enright 8; T O Se 7, E Brosnan 8, K Young 7; A Maher 8, B Sheehan 7; P Galvin 8, Declan O'Sullivan 9, D Walsh 6; K Donaghy 8, J O'Donoghue 7, C Cooper 9. Subs: Darran O'Sullivan 7 for Walsh (48), P Crowley for Enright (64), P Curtin for O'Donoghue (66), K O'Leary for Declan O'Sullivan (66), B McGuire for Young (66).

TYRONE -- P McConnell 7; C Gormley 6, C Clarke 7, A McCrory 7; Sean O'Neill 6, D Carlin, R McNamee 4; Joe McMahon 6, C Cavanagh 7; P Harte 6; Mark Donnelly 6, Mattie Donnelly 5; M Penrose 5, O Mulligan 5; D McCurry 6. Subs: R McMenamin 5 for Carlin (11), D McCaul 6 for McNamee (33), A Cassidy 7 for Mattie Donnelly (34), Stephen O'Neill 5 for Penrose (46), B McGuigan for McCurry (56).

Ref -- D Coldrick (Meath).

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport