But this Sunday’s showdown is different, or at least it appears different. Back in the Ulster championship when Tyrone were beaten by Down, there wasn’t much evidence that Mickey Harte and his players would still be up and running in September.
But their gradual emergence from the shadows of the championship to an eagerly-awaited final against Kerry, who are going for three titles in succession, is another indication that peaking in the middle of your provincial campaign is not necessarily the be-all-and-end-all.
Not widely fancied going into the qualifiers, Tyrone came through to destroy Dublin in the quarter-finals with their forwards scoring 3-14, and then they saw off the challenge of Wexford scoring 0-23. Now transformed from the unconvincing unit which stumbled in Ulster, they are firing on all cylinders.
At at Croke Park on Sunday, they’ll go into the game not as underdogs, but as even-money bets to spoil Kerry’s party. Remember, the last time most of these Kerry players lost an All Ireland final, it was to Tyrone back in 2005.
“Our players are not in awe of anything, either the occasion or the opposition,” says Harte. “For a long time, maybe, Tyrone were feeling a bit inferior, but not any more. Even in 2003 [the county’s first All Ireland title] we were never overawed by the occasion, and have never been since. It’s not that they’re arrogant, they’re confident players and they’ll play with confidence.”
If Tyrone, with their totems Sean Cavanagh, Brian Dooher and Ryan McMenamin still full of ambition, won’t fear Kerry in any shape or form, they have yet to deal with the reigning champions’ new strike force of Kieran Donaghy and Tommy Walsh.
Admittedly, Kerry have not been convincing this summer, failing to kill games off when they’ve found themselves in winning positions, but an All Ireland final is where the county’s players traditionally thrive. With Darragh O Se probably playing his last competitive game, and with captain Paul Galvin available again following his suspension since mid-June, they will be desperate to nail this three-in-a-row.
As ever, they have class from Colm Cooper in attack to Marc O Se at the back, but Tyrone will have noticed how difficult Kerry have found it defensively since Seamus Moynihan and Michael McCarthy hung up their boots. Harte will almost certainly have Stephen O’Neill back on the bench, after he agreed to rejoin the panel, and with Cavanagh thriving at full-forward, it’s easy enough to see Tyrone’s free scoring forwards testing Kerry to the full.
Kerry probably have the slightest of edges, but they’ve looked vulnerable at times, and Tyrone seem to have timed their run to perfection. Come next Sunday, expect the Red Hand to be raised in triumph.