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Declan Bogue: Tyrone are ready to turn on the power in All Ireland semi-final

No joy: Conor McAliskey misses a goal chance against Kerry in the 2015 All-Ireland semi-final
No joy: Conor McAliskey misses a goal chance against Kerry in the 2015 All-Ireland semi-final
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

The Bush Telegraph may be entirely unreliable at times, but a chance conversation with a former Tyrone footballer over the weekend brought something of a revelation.

This player in question would still be close to the action, close enough to hear the odd snatch of gossip in any case. His prized information held that since Tyrone beat Cork in the second round of the Super8s, and therefore qualified for the All-Ireland semi-finals, the current senior squad were immediately preparing to play Kerry in the last four.

Any manager will tell you that their focus is always on the next game, but the name of Dublin - apparently - never rang out once in the training sessions from the lips of coaches and management.

If our friend's information is correct, Mickey Harte had banked on Kerry topping their group and Tyrone falling to an honourable defeat to Dublin in Omagh. The 20-yard exclusion zone around Diarmuid Connolly and Sean Bugler all afternoon fits that narrative.

Tyrone have been waiting on this one since July 20 and while Kerry are priced up as favourites, casting the mind back to the last Championship meeting between the two throws up enough evidence that the Ulster side can make it to their second consecutive All-Ireland final.

Kerry won the 2015 semi-final 0-18 to 1-11, a game which carried many sub-plots. Tyrone held the vaunted full-forward line of Gooch, Star and James O'Donoghue scoreless from play in the first half.

Kerry were the better side, but the Red Hands were not helping themselves.

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Mark Bradley should have done better than to lash a clear goal chance straight at Kerry goalkeeper Brendan Kealy on 43 minutes, but as the clock ticked onto the hour, Peter Harte's penalty put one in it and two minutes afterwards Bradley levelled the contest.

What happened next?

Experience happened. Kerry hit the last four points to sail home.

Comparing the team sheets gives you a frightening sense of the transformation of both teams in the intervening four seasons.

Retirement has claimed Kealy, Marc Ó Sé, Anthony Maher, Johnny Buckley, Donnchadh Walsh, Colm Cooper and captain Kieran Donaghy from Kerry's starting XV. Replacements Fionn Fitzgerald, Bryan Sheehan, Darran O'Sullivan, Aidan O'Mahony and Barry John Keane have also departed the scene.

Jonathan Lyne and Killian Young remain on the panel, but drifted into the background as Eamonn Fitzmaurice began a process of transformation now superbly curated by Peter Keane.

The Kerry of 2019 are exciting and dynamic, but they are raw too.

Meanwhile, even getting to the semi-final in 2015 was some achievement for a Tyrone side demoralised by a preliminary round defeat to Donegal in Ballybofey.

It was that loss that forced Mickey Harte to entirely abandon the idea of defence for the sake of defence. From that moment, Tyrone remodelled their game and became a counter-attacking machine, Peter Harte, Tiernan McCann and Mattie Donnelly their flying column.

Something else happened that season. Peter Donnelly had been handed a role working with the under-age players at the end of 2014. Such a prized asset was worth putting to work in the senior set-up and he began to oversee their physical transformation from the outset of the 2015 campaign.

At this stage, with Donnelly's work recognised enough for Ulster Rugby to swoop and claim him, his legacy is in the lean cheekbones and running power of Tyrone.

Such are the standards and records he keeps, after the return of the side from their team holiday to Thailand in late December and early January, they underwent a series of athletic tests.

Senior players confided that they were a full six weeks behind their readings the previous year, which may go some way towards explaining their rotten showing in the opening league game, a 0-11 to 0-7 defeat to Kerry in Killarney.

From the 2015 game, only Cathal McCarron, Justin McMahon and Sean Cavanagh have retired from Tyrone's starting line-up. Bradley is on a year out, while injuries have halted Ronan McNabb's career.

The likes of Paudie Hampsey, Ciaran McLaughlin, Michael Cassidy, Rory Brennan, Kieran McGeary, Frank Burns and Cathal McShane are now the dominant presence in the dressing room, and they had been fast-tracked by Donnelly.

Kerry have some of the finest young talents in the game. Sean O'Shea, Killian Spillane, David Clifford, Tom O'Sullivan, Gavin Whyte and so on will carry their team over the next decade. But they are coming up against an entirely different proposition this weekend when it comes to power.

One of the most undervalued metrics in predicting a game is the weather. In the 2015 semi-final, the rain lashed and it suited the more powerful, physically gifted side.

The Tyrone panel will be doing several rain dances around their Garvaghey Centre this week.

Belfast Telegraph


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