Different venue, same old Tyrone v Kerry. Like, why always them?
This one was of a piece with so many previous encounters. It had drama, a dab of controversy and even a plot twist hours before throw-in when Healy Park in Omagh failed a pitch inspection. Cue the scramble, for teams, officials, broadcasters and supporters, towards the unfamiliar surroundings of Pairc Arthur Mallon in Tyrone.
That the game was played at all was no small thing. TG4 had to hire two special trucks on the fly to accommodate their main camera. It just so happened that such a pair of vehicles were parked in an industrial yard right across the road and available for hire.
Local knowledge played its part too. One of the key scores was Darren McCurry’s booming sideline deep into injury-time that put two points between the sides. The forward grew up across the road and the stretch of land on the far side of the pitch is called McCurry’s Field.
It was put to Mickey Harte afterwards that the injury-time point, which was just one of a handful of superb efforts landed by the local boy here, bore a striking resemblance to none other than Maurice Fitzgerald who was housed in the opposing dugout.
“That’s typical of Darren McCurry,” said the Tyrone manager. “When he is confident he is ultra-confident and on his own pitch before his own people… He has done this many times at training so it was just like another day, another task he would do.”
That it went down to the wire at all was a sort of tribute to Kerry whose four-point half-time lead never looked enough given they had the wind generated by Storm Ciara at their backs and, sure enough, their hosts were level within ten minutes of the restart.
The race for the line from there to the finish was pockmarked with cards of all hues. Peter Harte earned a second yellow on the hour, Jack Barry and Ronan McNamee were shown black five minutes later and then David Clifford got shown the line for a second bookable offence.
Clifford was his usual magnificent self up to that and the manner of his sending-off was as hard to stomach as it likely was costly for Kerry who were deprived of their most dangerous forward for what turned out to be another ten minutes of play.
The Fossa forward was jostled by more than one Tyrone player during a break in play before being wrestled to the ground by Ben McDonnell. The referee, as we have seen so often in these scenarios, opted to deal with the incident by punishing both parties equally.
Only one winner there.
Clifford clasped his head with his hands in astonishment when Fergal Kelly flashed the card. He roared at the grey skies and then he roared some more at one of the umpires as he made for the dugout. It was hard to find fault with him for feeling so aggrieved.
Peter Keane doesn’t do emotion in his public utterances but his feelings were clear. “It is easy pickings to say that there are two fellas involved and I will give both of them both yellows and, because he had picked up one early in the first half, two yellows make a red.”
Clifford’s loss won’t sit as their only regret.
Both the captain and Sean O’Shea spurned straightforward frees in the second half and Paul Geaney, held scoreless on the day, saw the game’s only goal chance deflected away by the legs of goalkeeper Niall Morgan in the opening period.
Harte declared himself to be more than happy with that four-point half-time deficit and they worked hard for it with a string of bodies stationed across their half-back line and putting it up to Kerry to either come through them or over them.
That they hadn’t scored from play themselves was immaterial.
They presented a very different challenge after the break and it took Kerry too long to figure it out. The four unanswered points in that third quarter, with the wind now at their back, was the winning of the game. Both managers agreed on that.
“They were critical,” said Harte of those scores. “That takes a lot of quality, a lot of nerve and skill for our players to do that because, while the breeze helps you get the ball there, it doesn’t direct it for you. So the players had to be careful with their possession as well.
“You could’ve kicked those shots in and it could’ve been three wides, which would’ve been no good to us and a tonic to Kerry. The fact we got those scores, it put them under pressure really quickly in the second half, that we were biting at their lead.”
Unfettered joy for Tyrone, so. For Kerry, a day of ‘if onlys’.
Scorers for Tyrone: D McCurry (0-6, 0-4 frees, 0-1 mark, 0-1 sideline); N Morgan (0-4 frees); T McCann, R Brennan (both 0-1); C Meyler (0-1 mark); C McShane (0-1 free).
Scorers for Kerry: D Clifford (0-6, 0-2 frees, 0-1 mark); S O’Shea (0-6, 0-5 frees); M Burns (0-1).
TYRONE: N Morgan; N Kelly, R McNamee, L Rafferty; T McCann, F Burns, P Harte; C Cavanagh, C Kilpatrick; K McGeary, N Sludden, C Meyler; D McCurry, F Burns, D Kerr.
Subs: C McShane for Kerr (42); K Coney for Kelly (48); B McDonnell for Kilpatrick (61); HP McGeary for Burns (70); M Cassidy for McCann (76).
KERRY: S Ryan; G White, J Foley, T Morley; P Murphy, G Crowley, G O’Sullivan; J Barry, L Kearney; M Burns, S O’Shea, S O’Brien; P Geaney, D Clifford, K Spillane.
Subs: D Moynihan for O’Brien (26); T O’Sullivan for Spillane (45); D O’Connor for Burns (54); T Walsh for Kearney (68); T Brosnan for White (73).
Referee: F Kelly (Longford).
Key moment: A day of many moments rather than major ones: Darren McCurry’s monster sideline that Put Tyrone two up deep in injury-time, David Clifford and Sean O’Shea missing easy frees in that second-half, Paul Geaney having the game’s one goal chance saved.
Talking point: The decision to move the game to Edendork was debatED long and hard before, during and even after the match. Huge credit to the St Malachy’s club for the work done in accommodating the game and everything to do with it at such short notice.
Good day: Cathal McShane’s appearance off the bench in the second-half, his first since declaring an intention to spurn AFL advances and stay in Ireland, prompted one of the biggest cheers of the day. A sight for sore eyes, he will play a much bigger role as the year goes on.
Bad day: David Clifford’s departure for a second yellow card deprived Kerry of their most dangerous forward at a time when the game was coming down the stretch and still in the mix. That it was such a harsh call will have made the loss all the harder to take.
Sideline smarts: Tyrone fielded Frank Burns and Peter Harte as extra bodies in their half-back line on a permanent basis in a first-half played against the wind and made it fiendishly difficult for Kerry to engineer the scores required as a buffer.
Ref watch: Busy, busy day for Longford’s Fergal Kelly. The decision to send David Clifford off for a second yellow will concentrate most minds but the question is which among his team of officials saw something, anything, that warranted that second yellow?
Key man: Clifford was threatening to be ‘that’ guy again but Darren McCurry has to get the vote for this one. He missed a couple of pots in the third quarter but most of his shooting, from play, frees, a sideline and a mark, was superb.
Next up: Kerry host Meath in Killarney on Sunday week, February 22nd. Tyrone make the trip to Galway that same afternoon.