Sport Gaelic Football

Thursday 23 November 2017

Vindication for Kingdom as dormant stars burst into life

Eugene McGee

Eugene McGee

YOU did not have to be in Fitzgerald Stadium on Saturday to smell the sulphur in the atmosphere when the biggest grudge match of modern times took place.

The stakes were higher for Kerry since they were at home, and Tyrone seemed determined to up the ante in the physical stakes from the start. But Kerry played things much cuter and stuck to playing skilful football -- and got their big hits in more subtly than Tyrone did.

In the end, their policy proved to be the correct one as they administered the worst defeat, in psychological terms at least, that Tyrone have suffered in the past glorious decade.

The final scoreline was a fair assessment of how the game unfolded -- and in the final quarter, Tyrone weren't at he races. When a team goes without a score in the last 26 minutes of a game, there is no debate about who was better. But from the very first minute of the game, when Declan O'Sullivan wafted over a sublime point, there was only going to be one winner.

The big debate all week was whether Kerry were finished after their poor performance against Westmeath, but as I mentioned on Saturday, Kerry rarely have their backs to the wall and when they do, they invariably pull out something special.

They extracted a new lease of life from players who had seemed to be dormant of late, including O'Sullivan, Colm Cooper, Kieran Donaghy, Paul Galvin and Aidan O'Mahony.

All of these hit the jackpot on Saturday and what a delight it was -- even for neutrals -- to watch these players come back to life in such dramatic fashion. For Kerry people, who rarely lose the faith in their leading players but were on the verge of doing so last week, this was an incredible performance because all the niggling problems that had beset the team have vanished in one go.

Donaghy stuck to what made him great a few years ago by staying inside the scoring zone and linking brilliantly not just with Cooper, but with other forwards as well.

Galvin did incredible work all over the field, but this time he refused to get involved in squabbles, despite attempts by several Tyrone players to taunt him, and Cooper was back to his brilliant best, sharp as a razor in every movement he made.

O'Sullivan made the most significant return to form, showing he's the best forward in the country for opening up opposing back lines simply by running at them with pace and power.

Tyrone have been phasing out an old team and building a new one for the past three years, and while many thought that was going to be a fairly easy task, this result showed things to be very different. With a few more veterans likely to go before next year, Tyrone have a mountain to climb to become All-Ireland contenders.

You had to admire the heroic courage of people like Conor Gormley and Joe McMahon, and but for those two, Tyrone's embarrassment would have been much more severe. But too many of the others were simply not at the races here.

Vindication is one of the sweetest emotions in sport, so Jack O'Connor can afford to be very happy after this. Not alone did every player respond to his demand to stand by the Kingdom, but his back-room staff measured the tactical approach to a tee for the first time in the recent Kerry-Tyrone saga.

Kerry football went back to its roots, with a few concessions for modernity of course, such as massed defence, and the results are there in style.

An intriguing championship is now more delectable than ever.

Irish Independent

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