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O'Connor: Kerry to test Tyrone in way Monaghan didn't


Ex-Kerry manager Jack O'Connor is still very much involved with football

Ex-Kerry manager Jack O'Connor is still very much involved with football

Ex-Kerry manager Jack O'Connor is still very much involved with football

He's away from the limelight now but still very much at the coalface of things for Kerry football.

He's away from the limelight now but still very much at the coalface of things for Kerry football.

These days Jack O'Connor is laying the groundwork for the Kerry sides of the future.

After helping end the Kingdom's long wait for an All-Ireland minor crown last year - and in the process joining an elite club of managers to have won All-Ireland titles at the three major grades - he'll once again lead the Kerry minors into their All-Ireland semi-final showdown with a fancied Derry side as they look to keep the defence of their title alive.

But it's not too long ago he was in the eye of the storm. When Kerry and Tyrone were going at it in the 2000s, O'Connor was front and centre for much of it as senior manager.

Relations soured not only between the two teams but between the counties. Kerry were in the unusual position of being on the receiving end in two finals (2005 and 2008) and a semi-final (2003) and it didn't sit well.

Before he departed the stage, his Kerry side beat Tyrone in a Qualifier in Killarney in 2012 that prompted an emotional interview from Paul Galvin which gave some insight into what that win meant. On Sunday, they'll get the chance to renew hostilities once more.

The rest of the country can hardly wait.

"I thought Tyrone weren't as good in 2012 as they had been in previous years," O'Connor (below) recalled.

"They're coming now with a new bunch again, they're virtually a new team with the exception of the McMahons, the Seán Cavanaghs and the Peter Hartes of this world.

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"Tyrone underage football has been very strong and Mickey Harte has always been able to produce teams and he appears to be coming with a good team again."

As Kerry manager, O'Connor made no secret of the fact that he wasn't a fan of Tyrone's style of play and they'll be expected to put up another heavily populated defensive screen this weekend.

Tyrone's defence was the rock Monaghan perished on. On the 65-minute mark, they had managed just 11 points.

At the other end, Harte's side were able to keep their impressive scoring rate going, something that prompted Eamonn Fitzmaurice to brand them as "the toughest nut to crack" since he took charge.

And while O'Connor believes they will prove a difficult puzzle, he expects Kerry's superior kickers to find a way through.

"My feeling is that Tyrone will be difficult opponents because certainly they've gone very defensive this year.

"They have huge energy, mobility and work rate. But I think that Kerry will ask them questions that Monaghan did not ask them.

"I just felt that Monaghan's curve was on a downward spiral since the Ulster final and I just thought on the other hand that Tyrone had a lot of running in their legs.

"I thought that was the main difference between the sides and there was also great cut in Tyrone as well. They were able to find gaps in the Monaghan defence whereas while Monaghan shifted play from one side to the other they just could not penetrate.

"I thought Tyrone were fairly comfortable in that game, but overall I feel that Kerry should have too much for them. I think Kerry are very strong in the middle of the field and they are good kickers.


"And I don't care how many bodies you have back in defence, if you possess good kickers in Croke Park it's half the battle."

Tyrone have been hammered from all angles for the last couple of weeks after Tiernan McCann's dramatic collapse that saw Darren Hughes sent off.

But O'Connor doesn't see that as being a major issue for the teams. Instead he reckons Kerry's experience of having played against Donegal in the All-Ireland final last year will stand them in good stead as they look to pick hole in the Tyrone rearguard.

"The bottom line is that stuff is really for the media, papers and pundits," O'Connor said.

"I don't think that will be bothering Kerry as Kerry will be concentrating on getting a performance and leaving the hype to others and supporters because the players are in a bubble when they are preparing for a big game like an All-Ireland semi-final.

"So I don't think that it will be a factor in Sunday's game.

"It will be a typically hard-fought battle but I do just fancy Kerry to shade it based on experience and meeting defensive-minded set-ups, particularly the way they coped with Donegal in last year's All-Ireland final."

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