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All-Ireland final place on the line for Kerry and Tyrone as Dublin watch on

Peter Keane and Mickey Harte bring their teams into action today.

David Moran and Matthew Donnelly in opposition in Croke Park in 2015.
David Moran and Matthew Donnelly in opposition in Croke Park in 2015.
Image: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

CROKE PARK TODAY will unfold amidst the backdrop of what happened last night.

That’s the upshot of staging two titanic All-Ireland semi-final tussles on the same weekend, the outcome of one naturally tends to colour the build-up to the other.

The latest show of strength by Dublin bolsters that all the more. The champions for the last four years and the most dominant force of the 2019 season, they triumphed last night ultimately in such a convincing fashion.

The power Dublin packed into that phase of play in the aftermath of half-time blew Mayo away. It propelled them into the decider and hardens their case for favouritism to keep a grip on Sam Maguire for another season.

So where do Kerry and Tyrone stand then? The second pass to the big football show on 1 September is on offer today. Who is best placed to grab it and provide the last obstacle Dublin must surmount in their pursuit of five-in-a-row?

Jonny Cooper, Dean Rock, Niall Scully and Brian Fenton celebrate after the game Dublin players celebrating their victory over Mayo. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Only four years have drifted by since the pair were facing off in pursuit of an All-Ireland final spot but the scale of change in the interim has been striking.

Kerry reflected on a 0-18 to 1-11 victory that afternoon, from that starting team their survivors are Paul Murphy, David Moran and Stephen O’Brien. Paul Geaney came on as a half-time substitute and whipped over three points while Peter Crowley is currently struck off as a long-term injury absentee.

It’s perhaps more instructive to reflect on the Kerry minor side from that All-Ireland semi-final day in 2015 with Jason Foley, Gavin White, Sean O’Shea and Tom O’Sullivan all having graduated from a team that bettered Derry by five points.

Tyrone pack more experience into their squad. Niall Morgan, Ronan McNamee, Peter Harte, Colm Cavanagh, Matthew Donnelly, Tiernan McCann, Conor Meyler and Darren McCurry are all still knocking around. That’s a wealth of big game nous that Mickey Harte can call upon.

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Paul Murphy and Colm Cavanagh Kerry's Paul Murphy and Colm Cavanagh of Tyrone in action in the 2015 semi-finals. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Harte is the constant presence of course, guiding Tyrone in All-Ireland semi-final combat against Kerry just like he did 16 years ago. He has stockpiled plenty experience of these last four games. Today is his ninth showdown with results split neatly between victories (2003, 2005, 2008, 2018) and defeats (2009, 2013, 2015, 2017).

His pattern of championship results against Kerry has altered though. Those groundbreaking wins of the noughties have been followed up by a Killarney qualifier loss in 2012 with the last remnants of his original great team and the 2015 defeat which they will remember ruefully due to the volume of scoring chances they spurned.

But since that last meeting with Kerry, Tyrone have accumulated plenty lessons. The progress has been incremental with a quarter-final loss to Mayo in 2016, a semi-final defeat to Dublin in 2017 and a final reversal to Dublin last season.

Does that spark more pressure for Tyrone? An expectation that their learning days are complete and they are set to step up? They’ll need to correct a trend if so. Since they lifted Sam in 2008, Tyrone have lost ten straight championship tussles against the three other counties left standing in the 2019 race. The need to deliver a knockout blow has spiked.

Kerry’s wave of youth come crashing into Croke Park, a setting that has not been profitable for them of late. The county have not won there in championship since the 2016 quarter-final against Clare or in any setting since the 2017 league final victory over Dublin. That’s something they need to overcome.

When the final whistle blows, it’s likely this one will have been settled by whichever blue-chip forward has maintained a streak of hot form. The country’s top scorer Cathal McShane has elevated his game to another level for Tyrone. If his threat is coupled with Mattie Donnelly near goal, then Kerry will have plenty to contend with. Peter Harte is another potent threat.

At the other end neither David Clifford or Sean O’Shea have suffered second season syndrome, still looking as comfortable as ever in elite company for Kerry. Paul Geaney is playing like the All-Star winner of 2016 and 2017 again while Stephen O’Brien has become indispensable to the Kingdom attack.

How either defence copes will be fascinating in the face of such firepower and go a long way to determining the outcome.

Dublin await in the final. Plenty at stake. 

About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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