Wednesday 20 November 2019

Kingdom crave real remedy of Croke Park win

Killarney 2012 hardly scratched the surface of Tyrone's dominance

Declan O’Sullivan and Brian Dooher battle for possession in the 2008 final
Declan O’Sullivan and Brian Dooher battle for possession in the 2008 final
Owen Mulligan swap jerseys after Kerry’s win in 2012
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

In his report to the 2012 Tyrone convention, the County Board secretary Dominic McCaughey touched on their senior team's visit to Killarney earlier that year, particularly the celebrations which followed that were, frankly, somewhat excessive for a qualifier of its nature.

Built up as a potential redemptive strike for the three Croke Park defeats they had suffered between 2003 and 2008, Kerry duly obliged with a 10-point win against a team that would subsequently shed Ryan McMenamin, Owen Mulligan and Brian McGuigan to bring a glorious era firmly to a close.


It was a game, McCaughey noted, that offered Kerry "the opportunity to exact revenge for defeats which many of its supporters and players had found it difficult to cope with".

Yet the final whistle was greeted "amazingly," he recorded, by "tears of joy by some players and wild scenes of jubilation among highly vociferous supporters".

It felt like a subtle nudge to Kerry for a bit of perspective and was not without some justification.

As Tomás ó Sé would acknowledge less than two years later, Killarney was "a moral victory, not the real thing" where Kerry had beaten a "skeleton" of the real Tyrone team.

If it offered some form of recompense for '03, '05 and '08, then they were short-changing themselves.

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The Tyrone bus had left to the acclaim of some 500 supporters who had congregated outside their dressing-room to offer some sense of solidarity with Mickey Harte, their first opportunity to do so since the tragic death of his daughter Michaela.

But within days some of the sores of old that may have closed with that well-received reception were throbbing again as McGuigan laid into two Kerry players, Declan O'Sullivan and Colm Cooper, in his 'Gaelic Life' column and suggested that O'Sullivan "smiled and sniggered" when he himself had been sent off for an incident with the former Kerry captain.

McGuigan went as far as to compare O'Sullivan's alleged reaction with Cristiano Ronaldo's wink when Wayne Rooney was sent off in a World Cup match in 2006.

They've played in league games since without incident, Tyrone have even rolled out 'tea and a biscuit' and a tour of their Garvaghey complex for visiting Kerry supporters ahead of their 2013 league meeting in Omagh and Kerry even subsequently set aside part of their next County Board meeting to stress how welcome they were made feel.

The edge between them has blunted somewhat even if the whiff of cordite has never been too far away from this new-age rivalry.

But sometimes it gets lost too easily in the billowing smoke that they have been responsible for two of the greatest All-Ireland finals in this or any era.

That might not be something Kerry would reconcile easily with - why do so many of the great finals yield Kerry defeats? - but, in this opinion, 2008 can rightly tender for best ever final, crystallised best by that passage of play that resulted in Brian Dooher's wonder score in the 24th minute.

Remember it? It had started about 90 seconds earlier at the Kerry end with Seán Cavanagh grasping an awkward ball above his head and making an angle for a shot for goal only to be smothered by O'Sullivan, not 13 metres out from his own goal.


Within seconds at the other end Tyrone goalkeeper Packie McConnell was forced to spread himself bravely and clinically to block a shot from Tommy Walsh after a most exquisite Colm Cooper pass over the cover before Dooher took off on his lung-busting run down the Cusack Stand side to float over on the run.

Harte would subsequently describe it as one of the greatest ever points scored in Croke Park.

"I'll look at that forever more," he declared.

The game had everything, level eight times, Cavanagh giving a masterclass by scoring five points, another great save by McConnell, this time from O'Sullivan, and even a few Kerry boxes were ticked.

They have rarely, if ever, played better in an All-Ireland final and lost while Cooper had spells where he was untouchable.

But in the end they were outgunned, Tyrone kicking the last five points over a 13-minute period to close it out.

And in truth they were even more dominant in the 2005 All-Ireland final, even if the eye injury picked up by Cooper, who was just beginning to motor when it happened, had a cloud of suspicion about it.

Elsewhere on these pages former Kerry boss Jack O'Connor reflects how the Tyrone team they met that day were "at their peak" and while acknowledging some value in the 2012 Killarney win senses that the difference in the challenge that a Tyrone team in Croke Park provides.

And that, in essence, provides the more compelling backdrop to this All-Ireland semi-final than any fallout or siege mentality Tyrone may be harbouring from the Monaghan match. It's what makes it even more intriguing.

Kerry have more survivors from their last Croke Park meeting seven years ago - Marc ó Sé, Aidan O'Mahony, Killian Young, Kieran Donaghy, Colm Cooper, Paul Galvin, Darran O'Sullivan and David Moran - by comparison to the quartet of the Cavanagh and McMahon brothers.

Killarney barely scratched the surface of the bank of dominance that Tyrone enjoyed throughout the 2000s, especially those victories where Kerry were forewarned, forearmed and defending an All-Ireland title.

And that's the uncomfortable truth that Kerry football still faces, regardless of the comfort of Killarney and two All-Ireland titles since.

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