Friday 20 April 2018

Fierce rivalry built on respect and seasoned with spite

Kerry never got the chance to avenge three most painful defeats

Tyrone's Ryan McMenamin in action against Kerry's Colm Cooper
Tyrone's Ryan McMenamin in action against Kerry's Colm Cooper

Dermot Crowe

On re-entering the homeland after defeat to Tyrone in the 2008 All-Ireland final, Aidan O'Mahony told those gathered at Rathmore that Kerry would be back the following year with the Sam Maguire.

He was true to his word but the chance to end the curse of Tyrone eluded them when Cork turned the Red Hand over in the semi-final. With that the chance was gone.

By the time the counties met again, in the qualifiers in Killarney in 2012, the show had moved on. Kerry won by ten points but Tyrone were ailing and the win was devalued.

Tyrone's defeat to Cork in 2009 had presaged leaner times. In 2010 they won Ulster but went out in the All-Ireland quarter-final, beaten by Dublin, and were relegated from Division 1 of the National League, one of their two wins being over Kerry in Omagh. In 2011 they relinquished their Ulster title and lost again to Dublin in the last eight.

So, that July three years ago, Kerry smelled blood and were filled with vengeance.

Read more: Croke Park braced for long overdue fireworks

That evening provided Ryan McMenamin's last appearance and the team that won the 2008 All-Ireland final had started to disassemble. Brian Dooher retired at the end of the previous season. Sean Cavanagh was ruled out through injury. The aftermath of the 2012 meeting in Killarney is recalled by Tyrone for the warmth shown to them by their hosts, something raised by McMenamin in later interviews. Much of this appears to have been reserved for Mickey Harte.

Outside of that, the rivalry has lived on its reputation and found brief renewal in National League games, and even some club matches. In 2009 the counties met in the League at Omagh when McMenamin was involved in an incident with Paul Galvin where he flicked a hand at the player's groin. Galvin fell to the ground and was ticked by the referee for simulation.

Read more: Peter Canavan: Seasoned Kerry firepower just too much for this Tyrone side

The win for Kerry was welcome after three crushing championship defeats in the same decade but it could never invalidate them.

Galvin had further intimate experience of Tyrone when his club Finuge ran into Cookstown in the 2013 All-Ireland intermediate club final, confirming afterwards that he was spat at.

More bad blood was in evidence when Dromid Pearses met Derrytresk in the All-Ireland junior semi-final the previous year, with disgraceful scenes dominating the headlines. Any match with a Kerry-Tyrone theme seemed capable of igniting trouble.

Harte's team, meanwhile, returned to Division 1 in 2013 after two years out and the teams met in Omagh in April. Kerry, needing something to avoid relegation, led by 11 points at one stage but they were almost pegged back and ultimately left town relieved to finish with a one-point win.

The following March they met again in the League, this time in Killarney, where Kerry's 3-15 to 0-9 victory, including three goals for James O'Donoghue and a powerful return to form for David Moran, had Harte labelling it the worst display of any Tyrone team he had ever been involved with. Tyrone have not looked back since.

Some dignity was restored in a battling draw with Kerry in Omagh earlier this year even if the home side fell short of the victory needed to avoid relegation. The game marked a return to the Kerry team for Colm Cooper after long-term injury.

Even if Tyrone are not the team of ten years ago, and are outsiders this afternoon, they continue to stir painful memories in Kerry of those empty-handed trips home in 2003, '05 and '08. No county has caused Kerry such vexation over the last 25 years. Today offers the latest intriguing chapter.

Sunday Indo Sport

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport