Too simple of course, but this Sunday’s All Ireland football final is still likely to be the most intriguing contest of the championship season.
Kerry have been unconvincing, as if somehow waiting to display their full talents at the right time. Tyrone, meanwhile, have had to show their hand more than once in a long, arduous haul to the decider. Defeated after a replay by Armagh in the Ulster final, they recovered to see off Tyrone again after a replay before gaining their revenge over Armagh in the All Ireland semi-final.
What you see is what you get with Tyrone. Swarming, relentless defense, personified by Brian Dooher, who covers every blade of grass every time he plays, counterpointed by a lethal attacking duo of Stephen O’Neill and Eoin Mulligan. Anyone who comes up against Tyrone will know they have been in a match.
Kerry though have been more languid, even in the way they dismissed Cork in the semi-final. There is class in abundance from Colm Cooper, who has once again ghosted in and around defenses this summer, right back to Michael McCarthy, however, there remains a doubt if last year’s champions are able to graft the necessary battling qualities on to their skills.
The events of the All Ireland semi-final of 2003 will still be fresh in the minds of the Kerry supporters and a number of players who will start on Sunday. That day, they were humiliated by Tyrone. Outfoxed, outplayed and sent back to Gaelic football’s supposed heartland to think again.
So, while Kerry have yet to light up this championship with the sort of aristocratic football of which they are well capable, the memory of two years ago should be more than enough to fire them for the game. Sunday might not turn out to be a day for the purists, but that will not take away from the fascination.
Kerry manager Jack O’Connor admits that his players have yet to come up against the sort of intensity generated by Tyrone this summer.
“We’ve been trying to simulate that sort of attrition in training as much as possible,” he said. “That’s the great imponderable on the day — whether we can match Tyrone’s intensity. Theirs is a hard system to break down.”
If Cooper and Dara O’Cinneide represent Kerry’s fluency, they, too, have a competitive heart. Tyrone will know that the likes of Seamus Moynihan, Tomas O Se and Darragh O Se will never raise a white flag no matter what.
Tyrone will look to Dooher, Sean Cavanagh, Brian McGuigan, and of course to the twin-threat of O’Neill and Mulligan to see them through, but another imponderable is what manager Mickey Harte decides to do about Peter Canavan. Tyrone’s captain in that historic first All Ireland triumph in 2003 has been dogged by injury of late, but typically he showed his composure and experience when coming off the bench to kick the free that defeated Armagh.
“Peter Canavan will be a significant player in this team no matter what happens,” said Harte. “His value is without question — what we must now work out is how best to avail of that value.”
Tyrone may want Canavan in from the start as a confidence-booster, but then he might be more effective as a second-half substitute.
Either way, Peter the Great will have a role to play in this eagerly awaited contest. Most football brains see a Kerry victory, but the hearts have a fancy for Tyrone. And the hearts should be beating a bit faster than normal as they celebrate another Ulster success on Sunday.
GALWAY 1-15 KILKENNY 1-14
There was some redemption for Galway hurling supporters following the senior team’s defeat when their under 21s won the All Ireland title with a dramatic 1-15 to 1-14 victory over Kilkenny in Limerick last Sunday.
Trailing by three points with just a few minutes remaining, it appeared that Galway, who has already suffered six All Ireland under 21 final defeats in the past eight seasons, were heading for another major disappointment. But whereas the seniors faded in the finishing stretch against Cork, the younger contingent found the strength to snatch a memorable win.
First, David Collins fired over a long-range free, then susbstitute Cathal Dervan was on target, as was Kerrill Wade from a free, before Niall Healy and Kenneth Burke combined for Wade to strike the decisive point just seconds from the end of injury time.
“The lads stuck to the task and stuck to the game plan,” said a relieved Galway manager Vincent Mullins. “We were in trouble for long periods, but we came back. I thought it was going to be a draw, but thanks be to God we got the winning point. That’s worth an awful lot to Galway hurling. A great day all ’round for the county.”
The late equalizing free converted by Wade was hotly disputed by Kilkenny. “They got one or two points there, soft frees, and that gave them the boost,” said losing manager Adrian Finan. “I don’t think they’d have won without those frees.”
Galway led by 1-7 to 1-5 at the break with their goal coming from Aongus Callanan while the impressive Eoin Larkin replied in kind for Kilkenny who had the better of the second half before the Connacht county’s late revival.
Four county titles were up for decision last weekend with Rhode successfully defending the Offaly championship with a 2-10 to 0-13 victory over Shamrocks in Tullamore where Pascal Kellaghan’s late goal proved decisive.
Meanwhile, Dromard won the Longford title for the first time since 1999 when they defeated Fr Manning Gaels by 1-14 to 0-12 in the decider at Pearse Park, while Coolera/Strandhill bridged a 98 year gap with their narrow 0-10 to 0-9 win over Curry in Sligo. There was a first Leitrim senior crown for Kiltubrid who comprehensively defeated Bornacoola by 4-11 to 0-7.
There were more celebrations in Cork when the county’s women won the All Ireland senior camogie title with a surprise 1-17 to 1-13 win over Tipperary at Croke Park last Sunday.
Cork’s 21st title came at the expense of Tipp’s attempt at a third in succession, and victory for the underdogs was richly deserved. Despite trailing by 1-10 to 0-8 at halftime, Cork never lost their belief and produced a second-half performance of the highest quality.
After 20 minutes Tipp’s lead was down to just a point when their fullback Una O’Dwyer fumbled in front of her own goal and somehow the ball trickled over the line to give Cork a priceless goal. Even though Tipp quickly reclaimed the advantage, Cork poured on the pressure in the closing minutes with quick scores from Emer Dillon (2), Angela Walsh, Briege Corkery and Jennifer O’Leary.