Saturday 25 November 2017

Red Hands and Kerry put bitter rivalry to bed

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

It was, in the words of the author who had clearly been on hand to witness it, "inspirational, unforgettable, classy."

A testimony, which has appeared on Tyrone GAA's official website, of how hundreds of Kerry people congregated outside the Tyrone dressing-room to wait on Mickey Harte and his team to emerge has brought a new strand to relations between two GAA counties who have been the most bitter of opponents over the last decade.

The anguish that the Tyrone manager no doubt feels in his personal life these days provided extra magnetism for the locals, already euphoric from a 10-point win, to show their moral support.

Under the heading 'One GAA family United in respect' it was accompanied with a picture of Harte signing autographs surrounded by Kerry fans. His team had lost -- it was their heaviest championship defeat on his 10- season watch -- but a smile still creased his face.

"Long after the thousands had left Fitzgerald Stadium last Saturday evening our Tyrone team was getting ready for a bitter journey home," the author wrote.

"Around 500 Kerry people remained outside the changing area -- men and women, old and young. As our people started to board their coach a ripple of applause met them. That ripple grew and grew and for long minute after long minute just went on and on and on.

"When Mickey Harte appeared, a cheer of support went up. As the coach headed down through Killarney hundreds on the pavements took over where the others left off, warmly applauding Tyrone. There is no doubt that Ireland lost a lot and took a lot of wrong turns in the last few years. But if you wanted your faith in decency, respect, honour and dignity restored, then Killarney at about 8.0 last Saturday evening was the place to be.

"Inspirational. Unforgettable. Classy," the piece concluded.

The contrast with those words of acknowledgment from Tyrone, which should shape future relations between the counties, could not have been greater with the snarling undercurrent that prevailed for much of the 70 minutes of their third round qualifier earlier that evening.

With 16 yellow cards and one red for Tyrone's Brian McGuigan it was the most testing outing for any referee of the 51 football games played so far in this championship.

With 47 frees, this game wasn't too far above the average for the championship, but it didn't truly reflect the exchanges.

David Coldrick is not a referee known for indexing the number of cards he produces with the number of frees he awards, but on this occasion he more than compensated in an effort to keep a lid on the game.

It was quite a task. How do you legislate for some of what went on?

Had this game been played under the disciplinary rules that were in place for the 2009 league -- whereby aggressive fouls were punished with yellow cards that forced the player to be substituted (up to a maximum of six substitutes) -- neither manager would have had any resources left to call on from his bench by the 50th minute.

But apart from the aggressive, cynical fouls there was an 'attitude' for much of the game. Conor Gormley slamming the ball into Tomas O Se's midriff after O Se had inadvertently bundled the ball over his own line under pressure for the Tyrone goal early in the second half didn't cause much damage, but, optically, it was about as mean- spirited as it came.

In the few seconds that followed there were flashpoints everywhere. Aidan O'Mahony and Owen Mulligan wrestled on the ground and Marc O Se and Damien McCurry were yellow-carded.

Kerry's propensity to foul high up the field and kill any Tyrone momentum also provoked a reaction. It was every bit as fractious as the landmark 2003 All-Ireland semi-final.

How ironic then that anonymous words on the Tyrone website should provide such a footnote to the day.

The enmity between the Cork and Meath teams, built up during their spiteful clashes of the late 1980s and early 1990s, subsided when so many Meath players attended the funeral of the late John Kerins, Cork's goalkeeper. The Kerry crowd's magnetism to Mickey Harte and the subsequent Tyrone recognition could potentially have the same effect.

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport