Monday 19 August 2019

Colm O'Rourke: 'Kerry's combination of steel and silk can smother Tyrone threat'

‘It is asking a lot for Seán O’Shea and David Clifford to carry the can up front against hardened warriors’. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
‘It is asking a lot for Seán O’Shea and David Clifford to carry the can up front against hardened warriors’. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

I have to admit I got it badly wrong last Sunday. I genuinely thought there would be the semblance of a contest in Omagh between two fairly strong teams. Instead, it was the farce of all farces.

Tyrone obviously looked at the bigger picture and decided that playing Kerry in today's All-Ireland semi-final would do fine. As both teams had to be posted at the same time before throw-in, Tyrone knew their selection would not have a chance against even a half-strength Dublin side and they just went with it. It must have been the closest thing to throwing a game that has ever arisen in Gaelic football.

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The sad thing, though, is, who could blame Tyrone?

There was no need to beat Dublin this time around. If they meet again it will be in the final and that is the only day that counts. So another flaw in the Super 8 was exposed last weekend. All the final matches should have been at the same time. Then nobody would know who they would be playing.

After the match Mickey Harte and Jim Gavin tried their best to make it appear that the game was something it wasn't. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck then it probably is a duck. And this was one served cold. The supporters were sold a pup. Most of the Dublin players were back at home early that evening after a gentle run around, drinking tea and eating Marietta biscuits. If the managers had said in advance that the game was serving absolutely no purpose then the public could have decided whether they wanted to see two reserve teams - with just two regulars on one side playing and three on the other. Instead everyone was taken for a ride.

It is strange at this stage that there are still some who defend the Super 8 concept. Others have even spoken about extending it to more teams. In all the debate about the Super 8 I have yet to hear anyone comment on the effect it is having on club football. Many county players like the Super 8, but I wonder do their clubs, who have not seen their players all year, feel the same. On top of that the GAA calendar is so squeezed that there are always big games on TV on both Saturdays and Sundays in July and August.

County boards are fixing important club matches knowing that if they are up against big games on television their attendances will collapse. This is having a negative effect on finances in counties, yet still all the top officials tell us 'we have to protect the club as the foundation of the GAA'. They should be prosecuted under the Trade Descriptions Act! You cannot protect clubs and have an increasing number of matches on TV when clubs should be playing. It is a lie.

The Vintners Association are probably happy. Last weekend was a bonanza for their members. The most anticipated game of the year was between Donegal and Mayo and because it was not available on free to air TV, the pub was the place most had to go to watch it. So much for the GAA's campaign against alcohol. How can you ban drinks sponsorship and then force people into pubs if they want to watch a match? It would be better if the game was not on television at all than engage in this practice of double standards.

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Of course money is at the root of all this evil, and the Sky deal is worth a pretty penny we are told. Money should be the last thing considered. This sours the people who love the GAA and who feel it is about more than money. One thing for sure is that if you sup with the devil, you better have a very long spoon. This sort of stuff comes back to bite.

In the middle of all this there is a huge match in Croke Park today. At the beginning of the year everyone would have predicted Kerry and Tyrone would be involved at this stage. Two great empires collide. The old order in Kerry trying hard to reestablish itself - even if it is not coming easy. The other, Tyrone, have taken great satisfaction from puncturing any pretensions Kerry had over the last 20 years. In doing so Tyrone made few friends, especially in the Kingdom where the in-your-face aggression really got to Kerry and raised questions over the whole ethos of how football should be played. Kerry found it hard to accept that there are a hundred ways to skin the cat. Yet over this period of time when Tyrone kept beating Kerry the inescapable fact was that Tyrone had a better team. They were two great sides but Tyrone were slightly better.

Neither of today's teams are anything near that level, but there will be a serious edge to this match. Kerry certainly will not want another chapter starting where the aspirations to greatness are stuffed by the northern invader. Tyrone are like the old uncle at Christmas who is barely tolerable and always takes the best part of the turkey. They delight in bursting the notion that Kerry play the game to a different tune than anyone else. Maybe at some other time but not anymore.

This will be war. Kerry are pinning their hopes on a new breed who dominated the minor scene for five years. It is asking a lot for Seán O'Shea and David Clifford to carry the can up front against hardened warriors - these two can expect special attention. The only long-term thoughts for Kerry supporters are winning this one but even if these two young men are not the stars this afternoon, their day will come. I still contend the only criteria to judge greatness in any player is semi-finals and finals in Croke Park when you are up against the best opposition in the country. Stephen O'Brien and Paul Geaney need to produce the goods today as well and they are big game players.

Possession is nine-tenths of the law as the old timers would say. Kerry have David Moran in great form at midfield and his long-range kicking ability is his biggest asset. He can move the ball quickly and accurately away from the sort of rucks Tyrone thrive on, but he could be identified by Tyrone for close marking. It will be no surprise if he has a man tight on his tail every time he goes back into his own defence to get an easy hand-pass from his full-back line. That would reduce Kerry's ability to set up attacks from deep.

Kerry have a lot of problems which have been highlighted by every team they have played so far - that is, defence, defence, defence. And kick-outs too.

Against Meath last weekend, Kerry were like a giant sieve at the back, most things were getting through. Today, the calibre of forward is better. If Mattie Donnelly, Peter Harte and Cathal McShane play as close to goal as they did against Cork in the second half then the alarm bells will be ringing loud for Kerry's defenders unless they either mark their men properly or get a covering player. Or both.

In some respects, Tyrone have similar concerns. In playing a more expansive game earlier in the year they left the back door open too often so it is more than likely that Tyrone will start very cautiously today. The philosophy will be to make it an all-out battle and grind Kerry into submission. If it is not pretty, then tough. It has worked well in the past.

That was then, this is now, and there is no Canavan, Dooher, McGuigan, O'Neill or Mulligan around. They had a system then too, but all systems work best when there are brilliant players around to implement them. In the heat of battle the special players carry the day as they can play by instinct and do the right things when under the greatest pressure.

Tyrone's biggest strength is their team ethos. It fell apart in Ulster against Donegal but has been repaired on the road. It is not enough to win the All-Ireland as they are a long way behind Dublin, but today is not about Dublin. That can wait.

These young Kerry players are unproven at this level and nothing can prepare them for the type of pressure they will be under today until they actually hit the pitch. Then it is either sink or swim. In the past the best of Kerry players went under, but today is a chance for a new generation to leave a lasting legacy and beat Tyrone in a big game in Croke Park.

This will be a huge test for these young talented Kerry players, a test of discipline as much as football as Tyrone will expect to grind them down mentally and physically. I expect Kerry to have steel as well as silk today. Kerry to win.

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