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Kingdom can lay some demons to rest against Tyrone

All-ireland sfc semi-final

By Declan Bogue

Published 22/08/2015

Flashback: Pascal McConnell’s long limbs deny Declan O’Sullivan during the 2008 All-Ireland Final. The teams battle it out again tomorrow
Flashback: Pascal McConnell’s long limbs deny Declan O’Sullivan during the 2008 All-Ireland Final. The teams battle it out again tomorrow

By the 56th minute of the 2008 All-Ireland final, it looked as if Kerry were about to do what came naturally to them for over a century.

The scores were level when Davy Harte clung on to a little too much of Bryan Sheehan's jersey for referee Maurice Deegan's liking.

Colm Cooper went over to the ball, worked a quick one-two with Kieran Donaghy to get to the edge of the 'D', and fired over to put the Kingdom one up with 14 minutes left. With Paul Galvin introduced a minute later, Tyrone's fate looked sealed.

By the 64th minute, however, Sean Cavanagh had the Red Hands one up again, before the turning point of all turning points.

Tomás Ó Sé had been a menace down the right wing all day, and he moved into the heart of the Tyrone defence. He exchanged fist passes with Sheehan, before Declan O'Sullivan came bursting off his shoulder, taking possession.

He rode a challenge from Conor Gormley and drilled a daisy-cutter. Pascal McConnell, only in goal because of the tragic death of John Devine's father the night before, kept it out.

"The long legs came in useful then," laughed the giant Newtownstewart goaltender (pictured) this week.

"I remember lying on my back, stranded on the ground and the ball just went into an awful spin. Time seemed to stand still and I don't want to repeat what was going through my head at the time, it was a case of 'get by that post!'"

That intervention spurred Tyrone, who added three points with a scoring spurt in the 69th minute through Enda McGinley, Kevin Hughes and Colm Cavanagh. They went on to taste victory.

In the press conference room afterwards, Brian McGuigan stated there was no doubt over the Team of the Decade debate.

In the RTÉ studios, Joe Brolly felt the same way.

It took another 12 months before a visibly fuming Pat Spillane was able to place that crown on Kerry heads again after they recovered to beat Cork in the following year's decider.

By then, the rest of the country snorted and thought, 'yeah, but it's Cork…'

If we are all products of our environments and experiences, then it comes as no surprise how Kerry players of different generations see the challenge of Tyrone.

Such as Tommy Griffin for example. He said: "The furore over Tiernan McCann and all the press, I don't think it's good for Kerry. In a strange way it can be good for Tyrone, it will galvanise them even further. It's a real us against them mentality, which probably is always there in some form or other."

Or Sean O'Sullivan, who said: "I firmly believe that Kerry would rather have played Monaghan. There is something about Tyrone. I am in Killarney at the moment and I was down around the town and met a few guys. The feeling is that you just can't trust Tyrone."

Switching the focus to players such as Marc Ó Sé, Galvin, Sheehan and others, he continued: "Among the older brigade, there is a little bit of unfinished business. When it came to Croke Park, we just couldn't get the better of them.

"The lads now see that there is an opportunity to put that one to bed.

"The win in Killarney (2012) helped, but to get Tyrone in an All-Ireland semi-final at Headquarters, it's one that Kerry boys will be relishing, to lay to rest a few demons."

Yet ask Spillane, the man whose diving goal in the 1986 final buried Tyrone, if there is a feeling that Kerry people are spooked by the presence of Mickey Harte, and he answers emphatically: "No. That's history.

"Absolutely not and not under (Eamonn) Fitzmaurice; a different regime, and they are a different breed. No complacency, tactics will be down to a fine art, analysis on the opposition will be done."

Though he understands why O'Sullivan and Griffin feel the way they do. He remarked: "They were on the receiving end. Maybe that's the difference."

And then he said something that would surprise many outside of Tyrone: "I met so many Tyrone fans that day of the match up in Ballybofey and I would say out of every five I met, five of them wanted to get rid of Mickey Harte, which I was surprised and shocked about.

"I couldn't get over it. But of course it was just after the Under-21 win and they wanted change.

"Ageism is rampant in the GAA. A guy over 60 is considered a dinosaur, obsolete and hasn't a clue, whereas a guy in his 30s is considered cutting-edge and innovative."

Such sentiments are something McConnell senses also. Perhaps this team have been more unloved than previous sides.

"Mickey has taken a lot of flak as well," McConnell explained. "Surprisingly, a lot of that has come from within the county. There were people writing the team off, thinking that Tyrone football would have been 'red up' a lot earlier this year because they didn't have much hope in the team, which was a little unfair when you consider the ability in the panel.

"Tyrone people demand a lot from their footballers and the expectation has gone up a notch or two since the glory years. Suddenly, success is not only demanded, but it is expected.

"These lads are burdened by that. It's an unfair burden, but they have to get used to it. They have to set their stall out and go about it their own way, but they certainly seem to be doing that so far.

"It's no secret that it's a rebuilding process and they just don't happen overnight. It's going to take time and there hasn't been much slack given over to that from inside or outside the county."

Rebuilding jobs are always complete when a statement victory arrives, and a win over Kerry y would qualify as that.

And if McConnell had to call it?

"Tyrone by a point, with Tiernan McCann getting the winner, would be nice!"

Belfast Telegraph

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