Friday 15 December 2017

Bitter Kerry-Tyrone rivalry losing its edge as dogfight for survival looms

Enmity between Kerry and Tyrone tempered by changing circumstances

Kerry’s Anthony Maher (left) and Kieran Donaghy battle for the ball with Tyrone’s Sean Cavanagh in the 2013 league clash
Kerry’s Anthony Maher (left) and Kieran Donaghy battle for the ball with Tyrone’s Sean Cavanagh in the 2013 league clash
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte in conversation with Kerry manager Eamon Fitzmaurice, right, and Kerry trainer Cian O'Neill
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

The dynamic that underpinned the most embittered long-distance rivalry in Gaelic football has shifted somewhat.

Kerry travel north to Omagh for a final-round league game that is stalked by relegation for both sides, and avoiding that will essentially be their only concern.

Anything else between them doesn't really come into it, whether it's supremacy or just a machismo reluctance to blink in each other's company.

Kerry have scratched that particular itch with three successive victories in league and championship over the last three years, while Tyrone have so many concerns of their own that presenting themselves as an irritation to the Kingdom no longer presents as a priority.


They have become ordinary rivals again. Their swords may not be completely back in their scabbards but they are not primed as they once were when they squared up to each other with such menace.

Maybe it goes back to that warm day in Killarney when Mickey Harte emerged from a beaten dressing-room to a generous reception from 500 Kerry supporters.

A subsequent account posted on the Tyrone Facebook page entitled 'One GAA family united in respect' articulated the appreciation felt by Tyrone towards the nature of the impromptu gathering.

There was a sting in the tail later that week when Brian McGuigan, who had been sent off in the game which Tyrone had lost by 10 points, criticised Declan O'Sullivan and Colm Cooper who, he claimed "often gave the impression that they "looked down on you".

That aside, the enmity has cooled. Ryan McMenamin, himself no stranger to controversy and confrontation with the famed green and gold shirt, feels it's a case of unfamiliarity no longer fuelling the same contempt.

"The teams have changed so much. The same bunch of guys aren't there. We had become so used to particular rivalries on the field between certain players. Maybe it's there still with some of the supporters but not these players," he said.

"I'd say with Kerry beating Donegal in last year's All-Ireland final, that particular hangover for the county (with Ulster teams) is gone."

McMenamin also feels the presence of Eamonn Fitzmaurice as manager has taken some of the edginess from Kerry, saying: "Eamonn is a real pragmatist. He doesn't try to hide the fact that Kerry play defensive when they have to.

"I always thought Kerry were defensive anyway but they just never owned up to it."

Quite possibly the gap between the sides has never been as great since Tyrone announced themselves as such a force in 2003.

While Kerry are All-Ireland champions, Tyrone's powers have been waning since their All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Mayo in 2013, and they have been subjected to some highly irregular defeats.

Their inconsistency is a real concern, according to McMenamin. It's only 13 months since Harte denounced the league defeat to Kerry as the worst performance he had been associated with in his time as manager after James O'Donoghue rammed in three goals.

Last Sunday he found himself virtually repeating word for word what he had said in Killarney when he reflected on a 10-point defeat to Donegal.

McMenamin was expecting a reaction in Ballybofey to the defeat to Cork but it didn't materialise.

"I saw a reaction coming in Mayo after the Monaghan defeat and I was sure it would be there again. Mickey can only do so much. He can't control the players once they cross the white line," he said.

Kerry have their own inconsistency issues that have not allowed them to gather sufficient points to insulate them before the final round of games.

They too have had their share of strange league defeats over the last three years with the most recent defeats to Cork, both by double figure margins, underlining their vulnerability.

McMenamin predicts an open game with both teams "having a cut to avoid the drop - these games have developed a habit of one team going to town on the other in a particular half."

He also feels too many people are getting "hung up" on the current state of Gaelic football, referencing Saturday's match between Dublin and Derry.

"Derry showed no ambition to win that game. That's the point people are missing about the defensive game," he said.

"Tyrone played defensive against Cork but still scored 2-10, Donegal played the same way against Tyrone last weekend and were able to score 1-13.

"You can defend in numbers and still have ambition to win a game from that position, but Derry were happy enough with that scoreline. They played for it.

"The scary thing is that too many are listening to a few boys in the media. We shouldn't forget that there were plenty of bad games in the 1990s and the early part of the noughties."

Kerry v Tyrone: Recent meetings

How Kerry reclaimed supremacy in modern football's most bitter rivalry:

February 2009, Omagh Kerry 2-10, Tyrone 0-13

Tyrone were All-Ireland champions but two Colm Cooper goals helped the visitors to an early 2-4 to 0-1 lead. Tyrone fought back but Kerry weathered the storm before angry scenes erupted at the end, with Ryan McMenamin and Marc O Se squaring up to each other in an intense confrontation.

March 2010, Omagh Tyrone 1-11, Kerry 1-10

A late Colm Cavanagh goal from a goalmouth scramble gave Tyrone victory in a match that Kerry had dominated for so long.

July 2012, Killarney Kerry 1-16, Tyrone 1-6

Their first championship encounter for four years gave Kerry their first summer win over Tyrone in four attempts, leading to quite pronounced shows of emotion from some of the Kingdom players.

April 2013, Omagh Kerry 1-16, Tyrone 2-12

Similar to 2009 as Kerry shot to the front, with a Tomas O Se goal giving them an 11-point lead at one stage before Tyrone staged a valiant comeback with Stephen O'Neill and Mark Donnelly goals.

March 2014, Killarney Kerry 3-15, Tyrone 0-9

Kerry's most emphatic win over Tyrone, with James O'Donoghue scoring three second-half goals and David Moran announcing his return to top form with a dominant display. Red Hand manager Mickey Harte would subsequently describe it as the worst display of any Tyrone team he had been involved with.

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