Wednesday 21 March 2018

Paul Curran: Kerry can now take on Tyrone at their own game

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Colm Cooper in action against Kildare's Mick O'Grady in the All-Ireland quarter-final
Colm Cooper in action against Kildare's Mick O'Grady in the All-Ireland quarter-final

Herald Sport

Kerry and Tyrone have become bitter rivals over the last 15 years or so and are set to continue that rivalry next weekend and with a place in the All-Ireland final at stake there could be fireworks.

Both teams have taken different paths to this point, with Kerry winning their provincial title again and then blowing away Kildare in an astonishing display of goal-taking in the quarter-final.

Tyrone were dumped out of their provincial championship in the very first hurdle by Donegal but were able to refocus quickly and have been able to build momentum though the qualifiers.

Anybody who knows anything about football isn't surprised that Tyrone are back in another semi-final, their second in the last three seasons, and there is a level of consistency there that is very impressive.

It would be wrong to write them off but the opposition they face the next day is a massive step up in class to anything they have faced so far this year.

Kerry won the Munster title again this year, despite a lucky escape against Cork in the drawn game, but in the quarter-final they produced one of their very best goal-scoring performances to blow Kildare out of Croke Park.

Tyrone arrive next Sunday by a very different route but like so many times in the past, they have refocused quickly on the qualifiers and have been able to build serious momentum to get to this point.

It is a measure of their great mental strength that approach the qualifiers with a positive attitude and the championship may well be a more competitive place if more teams adopted a similar mind-set.

Monaghan players Kieran Hughes and Conor McManus in a tussle with Tyrone players Ronan McNamee and Tiernan McCann
Monaghan players Kieran Hughes and Conor McManus in a tussle with Tyrone players Ronan McNamee and Tiernan McCann

All too often we see teams beaten in the provincial championship and then bow out tamely altogether a week or two later without a fight. Tyrone have won two All-Ireland titles coming in the back door so they understand that all is not lost with the first defeat.

Their most impressive performance came against Monaghan last week and it was a game that they bossed right from the throw in. It was typical Tyrone and in the end Monaghan just couldn't get enough scores to give them a real chance of winning.

The last ten minutes or so descended into chaos, with both teams squaring up to each other, but Tyrone were quite happy to play their part in the ugly finish to the game as it knocked precious minutes off the clock.

Well prepared

They will come up against a team next week that will be well prepared for anything that Tyrone might throw at them and with Kerry well capable of cynical tactics, this could be a dour affair.

Kerry are the defending champions and for me are in a better place now than they were at this point last year.

They won't admit it but they have taken elements of Ulster football and built it into their own style of playing the game.

I would argue strongly that Kerry are one of the most defensively minded teams in the business but what they have in terms of attacking options still separates them from most other teams, with the exception of Dublin and possibly Mayo.

They are also well capable of choking the life out of a game if required and that is what they may have to do to shake of the challenge that Tyrone present next weekend.

There is no love lost between these two great teams and the battles they produced in the last decade were something very special.

Tyrone, of course, can look back and rightly say that they had the upper hand but there have been huge changes to both teams since and for me, Kerry have a settled team while Mickey Harte is still trying to gel another team together.

It will be a fascinating contest and a battle of the mind as well as the body. It will be defensive and it will be tactical but I am looking forward to watching it all unfold.

The pressure is probably more on Kerry, as they are the form team, but Tyrone will be quite happy that it is their old enemy in the other corner and they will relish the opportunity of dethroning the champions.

From a tactical point of view, I expect Kerry to try and get early goals which would force Tyrone to come out and play. They have some terrific ball-winners in their team and the direct long ball into the square has taken them out of a few little holes in the past.

Kieran Donaghy has the ability to unlock most defences with his ability in the air and if he starts the game Tyrone will need to be awake to that. It will be important for Kerry that James O'Donoghue is fit to play a part and with those two back in the team, the challenge for Tyrone is a huge one.

In the past, Mickey Harte has proved that he can get his team to convert the work done on the white board onto the pitch on match day and there is no doubt that he will have a set plan for this game.

I would not be surprised if Tyrone won but they will have to be find another gear and probably hope that Kerry have an off-day. Kerry are the favourites and they won't lack motivation for this one.

If Kerry can stay patient and they will need to accept that they might have to win this game without scoring goals.

Kerry by four.

Herald Sport

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