Tyrone are facing whole new beast against Kerry, says Donnelly
Richie Donnelly, whose forceful running and support play were features of Tyrone's display against Dublin last week, admits that it will be a 'different' Kerry that opposes the Red Hands in the All-Ireland semi-final on Sunday.
When the sides met in Division One of the Allianz League earlier this year in Killarney in what was Peter Keane's first match in charge, Kerry triumphed by 0-11 to 0-7.
It may have been a cold, bleak January day but the fact that almost 13,000 fans trooped through the turnstiles provided further proof of the enduring rivalry between the counties.
But Donnelly, like just about everyone else in Tyrone, reckons that Kerry have come on leaps and bounds since then although he qualifies this by pinpointing his own team's consistency.
"Any day you play against Kerry, especially in the All-Ireland Championship, is always a massive day," pointed out Donnelly, younger brother of team skipper Mattie.
"This is a game to which we are really looking forward. There is a great tradition and history in our rivalry as well as tremendous mutual respect.
"On the pitch, both teams will give their all on Sunday and for this reason it is really a game to look forward to.
"There is no doubt, though, that Kerry have come on since that game but so too have we. We know this will be a whole new challenge for us against what will be a very different Kerry side to the one we met earlier in the year."
The league meeting may have long since been consigned to the record books as a fairly meaningless fixture but it nonetheless highlighted the growing threat that Sean O'Shea was to prove to opposing defences, the influence that Tom O'Sullivan and Tadgh Morley were to wield in defence and manager Keane's meticulous attention to detail.
O'Shea posted six points in that game (four frees) and gave an indication of the damage that he was about to inflict on opposing defences over the course of the year to date.
Kerry were without the imposing presence of David Moran in midfield on that occasion but they still managed to hold sway in the middle third of the park.
Since then, Kerry's forward division has flourished with players such as Paul Geaney, David Clifford, Stephen O'Brien, Killian Buckley and the superbly accurate O'Shea sustaining their team's drive towards another possible All-Ireland title.
And Tyrone manager Mickey Harte is not in the least surprised to see the Kingdom in the last four of the race to 'Sam'.
"Kerry are still the top team in the country in terms of having won the Sam Maguire Cup," pointed out Harte. "They always have their eye on the big one. They are always expected to be a big, big contender for the All-Ireland title and they seldom let people down."
"So we have a major battle ahead of us and we have to bring our best game to the table. If we can do this, then we can make it a very competitive semi-final and should this prove the case, then who knows which side might win at the end of the day.
"Every day we go out sees us go into a different game. Each team develops over the course of a season and this can be said of both Tyrone and Kerry this year. At this point in time, it's all about this game on Sunday which holds the prize for the winners of a place in the All-Ireland final."
With a crowd of over 60,000 expected, there will be a white-hot atmosphere in Croke Park especially as there is an intense rivalry between the sides.
And while the Kingdom fans will undoubtedly come out in numbers to get behind their side and give manager Keane every encouragement in his first All-Ireland semi-final in charge of the team, Tyrone chairman Michael Kerr is confident that the Red Hands faithful will outshout their counterparts.
"Obviously at this stage of the year the passion and the intensity will be huge but we believe that we can cope with whatever Kerry bring to the table," said Kerr. "This is just where we want to be at this time of the year.
"We have the greatest respect for Kerry and we have watched the progress they have made this year to date. They are no strangers to Croke Park but then again neither are we when you think about it. It's all to play for."