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History of tension: Kerry’s Declan O'Sullivan clashes with Tyrone’s Ryan McMenamin in the 2003 All-Ireland semi-final

History of tension: Kerry’s Declan O'Sullivan clashes with Tyrone’s Ryan McMenamin in the 2003 All-Ireland semi-final

History of tension: Kerry’s Declan O'Sullivan clashes with Tyrone’s Ryan McMenamin in the 2003 All-Ireland semi-final

THE GAA's fixtures computer may well be cold and dispassionate when humans are around, but during the dead of a Croke Park night it's probably chuckling merrily over one of the hands it has dealt for next Sunday's final round of Allianz Football League games.

There are several interesting clashes across all four divisions but, for sheer intrigue, none can compare with Tyrone v Kerry in Omagh.

The computer's role in making this such a fascinating affair rests in slotting it into Round 7, the ultimate decision day at the top and bottom of the tables. After that, the gods intervened to produce a scenario where, of all counties, Tyrone can determine whether Kerry are to drop to Division 2 for the first time since 2001.

That Tyrone don't need to take even a point from this game – they have already qualified for the semi-finals – adds to the irony. It means Tyrone can approach this game in a relaxed, if determined manner, whereas Kerry desperately need at least one point to have any chance of remaining in the top flight. Even two points would not be enough for a rescue if other results went against them.

Still, Kerry's starting base has to be a win to give themselves some hope of clinging on in Division 1 and end what has been a dismal campaign with a confidence injection.

After all, if Kerry can't harness their current situation to beat opponents who have already qualified for the semi-finals, it will raise questions about their solidity in the longer term.

celebrations

Dropping to Division 2 this year would be more serious than in 2001 because back then some league games were played pre-Christmas when, quite often, All-Ireland champions found it difficult to adjust to such mundane matters amid the ongoing celebrations.

That certainly applied to Kerry in late 2000 (their first league game was played three weeks after beating Galway in the All-Ireland final replay), leaving them with too much to do in the spring campaign. They have no such excuses now that the league starts in February.

Of their seven Division 1 rivals, Tyrone are the last that Kerry, in their current predicament, would have chosen for their final game. If the Kingdom were playing any other county that had already qualified for the semi-finals, they might find the resistance a little less intense. Not so with Tyrone, for one very specific reason.

Others may have set the scene for Kerry's dice with danger near the foot of the table but Tyrone would dearly love to be the ones that finally consigned them to Division 2.

They won't publicly admit it, of course, but Tyrone don't like Kerry very much and vice-versa.

Both will talk about mutual respect – which indeed exists – but beneath that lurks an edge which, if anything, has got sharper over a decade where the rivalry has been incredibly intense and not always that pleasant.

Their last championship clash in Killarney last July underlined the spiky state of the relationship between them.

Sixteen players were booked and one (Brian McGuigan) dismissed by referee David Coldrick in a qualifier tie which attracted a crowd of 24,370 to Fitzgerald Stadium. The then Kerry manager Jack O'Connor said it would be "unthinkable" to lose in front of the home supporters. Paul Galvin was close to tears in a post-match interview.

McGuigan was sent off a minute after coming on, prompting Mickey Harte to describe the decision as "ridiculous." Kerry won by 10 points – Tyrone's heaviest championship defeat of the Harte era – and their delight afterwards pointed to a whole lot more than the usual enjoyment which comes with a qualifier success.

After losing the 2003 All-Ireland semi-final and the 2005 and 2008 All-Ireland finals to Tyrone, Kerry were somewhat spooked by the Red Hand. Barbs had passed between the counties and relationships soured over the years. Tyrone implied that Kerry had failed to move with the times, while Kerry felt Tyrone were acting like they invented football after winning three All-Ireland titles in six seasons.

Kerry won more All-Irelands than Tyrone in the decade (2000, 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2009) to take their total to 36 and felt irritated by the implication that they had lost touch just because they lost three times to Tyrone.

Still, it was unusual territory for Kerry, who hadn't lost to anybody, other than Cork, so often in the championship over such a relatively short period since being out-classed by Galway in three successive seasons – 1963, 1964 and 1965.

The follow-up from Tyrone's defeat by Kerry last July took a controversial twist when McGuigan accused Declan O'Sullivan of trying to get him sent off and of "smiling and sniggering" afterwards. He also threw some critical barbs in Colm Cooper's direction. Neither comment went down well in Kerry.

Nor has the Kerry-Tyrone cold war been confined to the county scene. The fallout from last year's controversial Dromid Pearses v Derrytresk All-Ireland junior club semi-final was sulphurous and Kerry-Tyrone relations took a further twist for the worst after allegations that Galvin was spat at while playing for Finuge against Cookstown in last month's All-Ireland intermediate club final.

It all points to a rather tetchy relationship between the counties, but there's a broader and more important dimension to Sunday's game.

It revolves around whether Tyrone will be the county to serve Kerry with the official expulsion order from Division 1 or whether Kerry can put down a revival marker in Healy Park and hope that other results are sufficiently favourable to keep them in Division 1.

Against that background, it's no surprise that TG4 have chosen the game for live coverage.

Irish Independent


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