Friday 23 August 2019

Sinéad Kissane: 'Noughties rivalry fades but history colours everything from now on'

Comment

Kerry’s Declan O’Sullivan and Ryan McMenamin of Tyrone get to grips with each other during the All-Ireland SFC semi-final at Croke Park in August 2003. Photo: Sportsfile
Kerry’s Declan O’Sullivan and Ryan McMenamin of Tyrone get to grips with each other during the All-Ireland SFC semi-final at Croke Park in August 2003. Photo: Sportsfile

Sinéad Kissane

For any Kerry supporter worried that they're not worried enough about Tyrone ahead of tomorrow's All Ireland football semi-final then here is a not-so-gentle reminder about what one former Tyrone star said last month.

Before Kerry's Super 8s game with Mayo in July, Seán Cavanagh reheated Páidí Ó Sé's old "f*****g animals" line when he recalled the reaction of Kerry people to Tyrone's All-Ireland qualifier defeat in Fitzgerald Stadium in 2012.

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"I was thinking these are real purists. Then you sit in the stand, and you realise Páidí Ó Sé was right. They are absolute animals whenever the game is on. Their fans were riled on the terraces. They beat us out the gate, and you thought, 'Jesus, these guys are absolute dogs'," Cavanagh said in his newspaper column before adding that he thought some of the clapping of Tyrone players by Kerry supporters after the game was "a wee bit patronising".

"At least when you come to Tyrone you know we are going to be dogs from the word go to the end. A strange breed now, I have to say".

Seán's right, of course. We are a strange breed. We just don't like it being pointed out to us.

There's a curious kind of exposure at play when a grudge match isn't at the level it once occupied, and so it is with Kerry v Tyrone tomorrow.

Tyrone's All-Ireland semi-final win over Kerry in 2003 and subsequent All-Ireland final wins in 2005 and 2008 left a bitterness in Kerry, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

"There's an arrogance to northern people which rubs Kerry people up the wrong way," Jack O'Connor said in his autobiography. "They're flash and nouveau riche and full of it."

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Some might have framed the Tyrone v Kerry relationship of the noughties as arrogance v aristocracy. It's also pretty easy to point out that some of the Kerry reaction to losing to Tyrone smacked of arrogance too, like Pat Spillane's "puke football" comment after the '03 All-Ireland semi-final as if every team had to comply and only play the game the way Kerry did.

What was admirable about Tyrone was that they didn't give a crap about what we Kerry folk love about our tradition. And Cavanagh reminded Mayo about this before their game in Killarney in July: "They (Mayo) will relish going down to Fitzgerald Stadium, as opposed to bowing down to any aristocrat, Kerry football nonsense".

But that Kerry-Tyrone rivalry from the noughties has little tangible relevance for tomorrow's match. David Moran and Colm Cavanagh both came off the bench in the 68th minute in the '08 final with Cavanagh scoring the last point of the game in their 1-15 to 0-14 win. Current Kerry selector Tommy Griffin also came off the bench after 52 minutes and quickly got a yellow card for "clothes-lining" - as RTE co-commentator Martin Carney described it - Joe McMahon. Tommy Walsh started in the forward line that day.

There's a safety net involved with having a bitter rivalry with a county because it can give a sense of security that you think you know what to expect - even if it turns out to be completely wrong.

But the current Kerry team shouldn't have the same mental hang-ups with Tyrone as their predecessors - Kerry have been too preoccupied with Dublin and Mayo in recent years.

When there were accusations that Kerry were bullied by Mayo in the National League game in Tralee and in the league final earlier this year, for example, Kerry convincingly bit back at those concerns with their wholly convincing win over Mayo in Killarney in the Super 8s.

Tomorrow's All-Ireland's semi-final is bigger than a rivalry driving it. It is a definitive game for Tyrone under Mickey Harte - his team is stacked with more experienced team players like Peter Harte and Colm Cavanagh which makes it easy to conclude that Tyrone need to win this game more because of where they are in their lifespan.

There is also an opinion that time isn't on Kerry's side either but - opposite to Tyrone - it's that they are still too young and inexperienced.

But this is a year like no other for Kerry because of what Dublin are on the cusp of. This has been a summer for a Kerry supporter to talk out of both sides of their mouth - one with 'we hope to win the All-Ireland' with the other adding 'as long as Dublin don't do the five-in-a-row'.

That might sound unpalatable to some Dubs supporters and, without doubt, this Dublin team is deserving of it if they do it. But it doesn't matter that some of the Kerry players starting tomorrow were born over 15 years after the five-in-a-row bid was ended by Offaly in 1982.

History is everywhere and everything to Kerry. As soon as Dublin won last September, this year was marked out as different. Tomorrow's game is part of a bigger picture that the current Kerry players can't escape from.

Tomorrow will be the seventh time Kerry and Tyrone play each other in the championship with the tally locked at three wins apiece. No Kerry team exists in a vacuum. The absence of evidence isn't the same as the evidence of absence.

And just because they don't have a ferocious rivalry with the current Tyrone doesn't mean history won't also colour everything they've done this past week. As Cavanagh said, we're a strange breed.

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