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Tyrone can add to Kerry struggle

By John Campbell

Tyrone may have proven to be Kerry's nemesis in the All-Ireland Championship having beaten the Kingdom in the 2005 and 2008 finals yet Mickey Harte's side have not won in Fitzgerald Stadium, Killarney since 2003.

It's a famine that the Red Hands hope to end on Sunday when the sides clash in what is a crucial Allianz Division One assignment for both sides.

Victory would virtually assure Tyrone of a place in the semi-finals while defeat could see Kerry plunge into Division Two, something that would have been deemed unthinkable at the outset of the competition.

And there is an even more interesting vignette to Sunday's contest. When Kerry lost their third league encounter on the trot to Mayo in Castlebar last Sunday, it was the first time in decades that a Kingdom side shipped such a setback without having any All-Ireland winners in their side.

Down through recent decades Kerry players collected such honours in much the same way as the rest of us might consign loose change to our back pocket but there is an aura of inexperience and rawness about the current line-up that does not quite bode well for the immediate future.

No longer is the Kerry side dotted with household names, no longer does it carry the invincible aura which was its hallmark for so long.

Little wonder then that manager Eamon Fitzmaurice, who gave many years of service to the county as a sturdy centre-half-back, is looking worried and bewildered as he ponders the visit of a Tyrone side that has remained unbeaten since the start of the year.

Yet Fitzmaurice, bereft of experienced campaigners especially following the retirements of such luminaries as Tomás Ó Sé and Paul Galvin, can garner a crumb of comfort from the corresponding league game last year.

On that occasion, the Kingdom travelled to Healy Park, Omagh with their backs very much to the wall following a horrendous start to the league but came away with a somewhat hollow one-point victory that ultimately proved their springboard to salvation in Division One with Donegal and Down instead making the drop.

While Fitzmaurice seeks to bolster his side from rather limited resources – the well-chronicled cruciate ligament injury to Colm Cooper is the biggest blow he has been forced to ship – his Tyrone counterpart Mickey Harte is believed to be on the cusp of adding a seasoned edge to his line-up.

Conor Gormley has returned to training, the McMahon brothers Justin and Joe are thought to be approaching full fitness although will require generous game time to prove themselves and players such as Mark Donnelly, Paddy McNeice, Kyle Coney, Dermot Carlin and PJ Quinn are among a platoon just itching to come under starter's orders.

The only survivor in the current squad from the line-up that beat Kerry in the league at Killarney in 2003 is Sean Cavanagh and he has special cause for hoping that the Red Hands can come good in one of the most picturesque parts of the country on Sunday.

"The years have certainly flown by and we have a new-look side but our rivalry with Kerry is as strong as ever," states Cavanagh.

"How they have performed in the league to date will not really be relevant on because they will be very much up for this challenge.

"We have young guys now up front who provide us with plenty of ammunition.

"The fact that we are going to Killarney should not worry us unduly because we did not fare badly in our away games in the league last year.

"We know if we win we will be pushing for a place in the semi-finals," he added.

"Kerry of course will be very keen to get the points as they are facing into a relegation dogfight which is not something that would sit well with their followers."

Peter Harte, who was shown a black card in Tyrone's rather fortuitous win over Kildare last Sunday, is available for selection again and it's unlikely manager Harte will tweak his line-up too much.

The status quo may pertain for now but room could be made for some of his more seasoned campaigners as the league progresses.

Belfast Telegraph

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