Gutsy Tyrone go down fighting
Tyrone 1-11 Kerry0-18
It's time the current fashion of highlighting Tyrone's cynicism was put to bed after Kerry produced a performance high on craft, with all the necessary examples of cute and crude scepticism, to reach the All-Ireland final.
That Tyrone died with their boots on in the 1-11 to 0-18 defeat, just days after Tiernan McCann's eight-week ban for the 'Rufflegate' episode was overturned, offers some consolation to Mickey Harte.
He commented: "People say the worst place to lose is the semi-final and I agree. Our players know that and they are devastated. There is some consolation in the quality they showed but the result is everything."
Two years after an epic semi-final in which they lost to Dublin, Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice said after the game that this was exactly the type of year that could end with an All-Ireland.
Although it appeared improbable for long stretches of 2015, Harte could have uttered something similar and given the way his team performed here, nobody would dispute the assertion.
While a couple of decisions went in their favour, the key ingredient of Kerry's win was that when faced with massive adversity when Peter Harte buried a penalty and Mark Bradley swung over a point to level matters with eight minutes remaining, they closed the game out with the last four points.
The Tyrone defence was short-handed and allowed Anthony Maher to drift in behind their cover to loft over before Stephen O'Brien found the target. Then, a foul by Ronan McNabb on Colm Cooper was punished with a Paul Geaney point and fellow substitute Barry John Keane pushed it out of reach.
By way of contrast, the Red Hands have a team that potentially could climb the steps of the Hogan Stand. But they will never get there without composure.
In the first-half, Connor McAliskey turned over Peter Crowley after a kick-out and made straight for goal. He ignored the screams of Darren McCurry on the right and drilled over a point.
In the 44th minute, Cathal McCarron and Sean Cavanagh combined to put Mark Bradley through and while he put it low with plenty of power, Kerry goalkeeper Brendan Kealy got a strong right hand to it.
And later, as Pádraig McNulty lost the ball in the tackle, McCann had a half chance that trickled wide. They had their opportunities, especially considering they cancelled their 0-8 to 0-7 half-time deficit at the start of the second period.
Sean Cavanagh stated: "We felt we've left it behind us.
"There are days you go out and you believe you couldn't have won the game but today isn't one of those days. On another day we'd be sitting in an All-Ireland final."
Back to the questionable calls of referee Maurice Deegan.
Kerry can hardly question the black card awarded to Marc Ó Sé after 15 minutes when he dragged McAliskey down, but when Ronan McNamee committed what was a slightly rough foul on Colm Cooper on 52 minutes, Deegan inexplicably reached for black instead of red.
Shortly afterwards, Shane Enright dragged Peter Harte down to frustrate a promising looking attack and escaped with a yellow.
The crucial decision came when a McCurry free went short to McNulty in the 65th minute. Camera angles and replays show that the call for a penalty could have gone either way, with Aidan O'Mahony's arms wrapped around him in the square, but Deegan said no, choosing instead to book McNulty for simulation.
Were Tyrone paying for previous sins? Maybe so, according to their captain.
"I was five foot from it," rued Cavanagh. "I wonder would the same decision be made if it was at the other end of the field. There's been an awful lot of negativity around this team, it's not for me to judge whether that has been fairly or unfairly, but all we're looking for is fair play."
During the week some sage Kerry voices warned that Harte could pull something out of the bag, and he had Tyrone aware of their roles. Cooper was marginalised throughout, James O'Donoghue was held scoreless from play and Kieran Donaghy was called ashore at half-time.
They retreated and flooded the midfield for Kerry kick-outs and largely broke even.
However, with Kerry pushing up on Niall Morgan's kick-outs, they had a horrific period at the start of the second half, coughing up three points in as many minutes.
Overall, Kerry had too much class. The variety of substitute attacker on Fitzmaurice's panel is a conundrum that neither Dublin or Mayo will be able to manage in the final on September 20.
It's been a stormy year for Tyrone, since the failure of the floodlights in the first league game, which ended in defeat to Monaghan, and all the criticism heaped upon them in recent weeks. They have emerged stronger. But they needed more against the defending champions.
TYRONE: N Morgan 0-1 f; R McNamee, Justin McMahon, C McCarron; T McCann, R McNabb 0-1, A McCrory; C Cavanagh 0-1, M Donnelly 0-1; M Bradley 0-2, P Harte 1-0 - Pen, C Meyler; D McCurry 0-3, 1f, S Cavanagh, C McAliskey 0-2. Subs: P McNulty for Meyler (47m), B Tierney for McCrory (54m), R O'Neill for McCurry (66m)
Yellow cards: McNulty (66m) Black cards: McNamee (54m), replaced by C Clarke Red cards: 0
KERRY: B Kealy; P Murphy, M ÓSé, S Enright; J Lyne, P Crowley, K Young; A Maher 0-1, D Moran; S O'Brien 0-3, J Buckley 0-3, D Walsh 0-1; C Cooper 0-2, 1f, K Donaghy 0-1, J O'Donoghue 0-4, 3f, 1x 45. Subs: P Geaney 0-2, 1f, for Donaghy (h-time), B Sheehan for Moran (54m), D O'Sullivan for O'Brien (61m), A O'Mahony for Crowley (62m) BJ Keane 0-1 for Walsh (70m)
Yellow cards: Maher (20m), Enright (58m), D O'Sullivan (70m) Black cards: ÓSé (15m) Red cards: 0
Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois).