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Eugene McGee: A huge psychological boost for Fitzmaurice and Kerry

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Kerry duo Anthony Maher (left) and Kieran Donaghy battle for the ball with Tyrone’s Sean Cavanagh during their meeting in Omagh

Kerry duo Anthony Maher (left) and Kieran Donaghy battle for the ball with Tyrone’s Sean Cavanagh during their meeting in Omagh

Kerry duo Anthony Maher (left) and Kieran Donaghy battle for the ball with Tyrone’s Sean Cavanagh during their meeting in Omagh

GAA people love conspiracy theories to explain unexpected results or a very poor performance. A common whisper is the 'half-time row in the dressing-room'.

At half-time in Omagh, when Kerry were leading by 1-13 to 0-5, some Tyrone fans could have been excused for thinking that this was such a day. Maybe Mickey Harte was deliberately letting Kerry do this so that if the teams were to meet next August the Kerry lads would be over-confident. Tyrone were already through to the league semi-finals anyway.

Well, the second half was not long in progress when theories like that were soon dismantled. Tyrone came storming back and ended up running Kerry to just a single point and confined them to a meagre three points in the whole second half.

Of course, Tyrone had only managed four points in the opening period so you can tell this was a fairly amazing game.

It should be said straight away that this was a great game of football with fine, open play, many glorious scores and not a dirty stroke to be seen as both sets of players played the game in the proper manner.

Certainly there were lots of big hits – from both sides – but with referee Marty Duffy, who sensibly was taking no chances with a heavy free-count, keeping the game going as far as possible. I reckon there would have been no more than two or three black cards if the new rules were in force so that tells its own story.

This is a huge psychological boost for Kerry and their manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice. The faith of their fans has been sorely tested over the past few months with some dismal results and particularly dismal score tallies.

But yesterday they played football reminiscent of some of the Kingdom's great performances of the past decade.

The many Kerry fans who have been crying out for a change in attacking emphasis by bringing Colm Cooper to the half-forward line and restoring Kieran Donaghy to the full-forward line were totally justified and it was these two who set the template for how Kerry played in this game.

Donaghy had a wonderful first half, with his old sharpness back, while Cooper showed, as most people already knew, that his repertoire of football skills extends far beyond getting vital scores from close-range.

He distributed the ball to devastating effect in the first half, particularly, and if he stays playing in that area of the field, and with such excellence then the Kerry forward line will be a very potent threat later on this year.

Some of the scores Kerry worked were top class and the Tyrone backs were really struggling for pace as time after time they were beaten to the ball, especially when it was delivered in long.

In addition to scoring 1-13, Kerry could easily have scored three more goals in that first period as Tyrone seemed to be mesmerised at times.

The half-time break was a huge relief to Tyrone, who had only managed four points, just one from play.

But Tyrone are nothing if not battlers and when Stephen O'Neill scored an early goal after the break we knew, as Kerry did, that we were in for a most interesting 37 minutes of football.

During a 24-minute spell in the second half, Kerry were held scoreless while Tyrone gradually nibbled away at the huge lead.

Mind you, they only got two scores in the 10 minutes after half-time and but for some wasteful kicking and a touch of showboating by the Kerry forwards they could have put Tyrone completely out of reach in that period.

Maybe Kerry got complacent, or their training camp in Portugal took its toll but most credit for the revival should go to Tyrone, especially when Conor Gormley joined the battle and led by example as he has so often done before.

Inspired by his fabulous point in the 47th minute, his team came chasing Kerry players in the old Tyrone way and thus gained plenty of possession.

But the gap was always intimidating and it took over 20 minutes to get it down to a reasonable margin of five points at 1-15 to 1-10.

Kerry reacted to the threat by throwing in a few subs to help tired legs and showed their ruthlessness by taking off Paul Galvin, Kerry's best player up to that point, along with Tomas O Se, and Darran O'Sullivan.

The changes seemed to stem the tide in terms of possession at least but panic set in in the Kerry attack towards the finish and both John Buckley and sub Bryan Sheehan (free) missed chances. Eventually, Cooper, having recovered from a hard knock, did point a free to end that barren spell.

Both teams will be happy after this game as the two unbalanced halves saved each team's bacon. Tyrone will definitely be worried about the dismantling of their defence for so long while Kerry will still require the services of any injured frontline players such as Eoin Brosnan, who only lasted four minutes yesterday.

Irish Independent