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Tyrone in with fighting chance against rivals Kerry

By Declan Bogue

Hard to believe that we are back in this scenario, two years on, Kerry travelling north to Tyrone looking for two points to stay in Division One.

The last time, the scenario was different for Tyrone. They had already guaranteed themselves a league semi-final place and could afford to experiment.

Still, as their corner-back Aidan McCrory said that week: "We're never going to be complacent against Kerry. They'd love to beat us to stay up and we'd love to win and put them down."

As a gesture of goodwill, the officials of Club Tyrone invited the travelling Kerry fans to call into their recently-opened Garvaghey complex to munch a few sarnies and enjoy a cup of tea on their way to the match, not forgetting the warm welcome afforded to manager Mickey Harte by around 500 Kerry fans after the backdoor game the previous summer.

In Kerry minds at least, that game in the scorching heat of Killarney, and the nature of it, had put to bed the often heated relationship between the two that endured for a decade.

"I don't think that rivalry is there any more. It's gone, probably gone after 2012," says Kerry's 2004 All-Ireland winning captain Dara Ó Cinnéide.

"I don't think it's a game with any more extra motivation in it other than just winning the game. The personnel has changed."

Let's talk now about Ballybofey. There was a slightly defeated air about Tiernan McCann's comments in the immediate aftermath of Tyrone's 10-point defeat to Donegal when he said: "We're not trying to let anybody down, we're just going out to represent our families, our clubs, our county."

There might have been even more significance in another comment he made: "It's going to take a long number of sessions up at Garvaghey in the wind and rain to correct what happened today."

The following night, the county under-21 team were up at Garvaghey to prepare for Wednesday night's Ulster semi-final against Armagh and had to rethink their planned session of ballwork due to the gale blowing across the landscape. Another group of locals, playing seven-a-side soccer on the astroturf pitch beside them, scattered to the dressing rooms when the goalposts took flight after half an hour.

Forget for a second the achievement, the work and the award-winning design of the facility, and consider instead the practicalities of it. You wouldn't be alone, for many in Tyrone question the conditions of the location.

Last Sunday, Mickey Harte insisted that his comments after the game: "We didn't believe we were coming here to get a whipping like that. It was as bad a performance as I've been involved in with the Tyrone team over all the time that I've been involved - at any level and at any age," were made as a matter-of-fact statement.

"I'm not saying it to get a response," explained Harte, whose presence on the sideline was thrown into doubt after it emerged yesterday that he has had a hospital stay for a minor operation.

If there was a feeling of déjà vu, it's because he had remarkably similar reflections in the wake of last year's round four trimming in the league below in Killarney.

At that point, Kerry were without a win in their first three games while Tyrone were travelling in the confidence that the opening night draw with Derry was followed up by wins over Mayo and Kildare.

"There's only so often you can say that this is our worst ever day," comments Ó Cinnéide.

"Last year down in Killarney they were fairly peppered by James O'Donoghue and I think Harte came out after that and said he had never seen it so bad and you would have expected us to get up for Kerry particularly."

Those who attended both games, of which this correspondent was one, would be tempted to agree that last week was the nadir.

The question is, can Tyrone sufficiently steel themselves for this game, six weeks before they are due to revisit the scene of last Sunday's devastation in the Ulster preliminary round?

There are crumbs of comfort they can take from Kerry's current form. Last week, Monaghan went south and scored a rare win over Kerry.

The lack of cutting edge for the Kingdom was addressed by Eamonn Fitzmaurice, including Colm Cooper and Paul Galvin for his matchday squad this weekend, the manager explaining: "Depending on the type of game, depending on what we need, you could see one or both of them for sure."

Kerry's now customary training camp in the Algarve will take place almost a month later than last year, given that they are not out in Munster until the third week in June and many had felt that Cooper and Galvin were going to be held back for that.

It's hard to know what Kerry get out of most league campaigns, but also instructive to see that they were able to see off fellow All-Ireland hopefuls Donegal and Dublin.

Tyrone's concerns are multiple, not least their surprisingly poor record in Healy Park, that has them winning only three of the last 11 games of league and championship football in Omagh.

Earlier in the week, Fitzmaurice proclaimed this game has a "championship feel."

The pressure on Tyrone has been building all week. The question is, is there a kick in them?

We will see soon enough.

Belfast Telegraph


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