Kerry's Colm Cooper and Aidan O'Mahony celebrate a point during yesterday's game. INPHO/James Crombie
Post-Match Debate

Talking Points: Kerry 1-16 Tyrone 1-6, All-Ireland SFC qualifier

Here’s five talking points from Saturday’s pivotal All-Ireland round three qualifier tie in Killarney.

The battle between the Tyrone attack and the Kerry defence
Posting 1-16 against Roscommon side and 0-10 against a Donegal team famed for their defensive structures, meant Tyrone felt good about their offensive capabilities heading south on Saturday. They looked to have unearthed another young gem in Darren McCurry, Owen Mulligan was regaining old form, Mark Donnelly’s busy play was getting results and Martin Penrose was orchestrating games. Yet all of those sources yielded little dividend on Saturday. It was not until the 36th minute that one of their forwards scored when McCurry swung over from his left and that proved their starting attack’s only point from play during the game.

Of course their struggles to find form was also down to the fact that they were not let cut loose. Eoin Brosnan maintained the high standards that he had set in Mullingar while Bryan Sheehan and Anthony Maher were in the type of towering form that ensured their defence would never be submerged under pressure. When the ball was in the vicinity of their inside line, Marc Ó Sé, Aidan O’Mahony and Shane Enright were excellent in their discipline and diligence. It was a fine defensive shutout from the Kingdom as they won that particular battle hands down.

The greater fluidity of Kerry’s play
The more Kerry tried to slip into top gear in the opening stages against Westmeath last Sunday week, the more they malfunctioned. But Saturday was better. Passes found their way to a teammate, the ball was sticking to the hands of their attackers and they were stringing together the moves that breed confidence. Their goal was a case in point. They recovered from setback of conceding a messy goal at the other end early in the second-half to fashion an intricate move involving Bryan Sheehan, Declan O’Sullivan and Colm Cooper that culminated with Kieran Donaghy palming the ball to the net.

Donaghy’s form was better in this game, James O’Donoghue brought something new to their forward line while the triumvirate of O’Sullivan, Cooper and Galvin looked determined to make a mark against Tyrone on a big summer day. The national standings would still have Dublin, Donegal and Cork ahead of them at this juncture. But Kerry certainly appear sprightly again and have momentum heading towards round four.

The hunger evident in the Kerry players
If last Monday’s round three qualifier draw had pitted Kerry with a game against lower-ranked opponents, it’s reasonable to suggest that they may not have been roused from their hitherto slumber. They could have staggered once more towards the finishing line and headed for round four with more issues to resolve. Instead they got the draw that infused them with energy, the type of challenge that demanded their rise their game. There was a zest to Kerry’s training last week and that carried over to match day.

From the off they wore the look of men who were focused for this challenge. Past defeats to Tyrone of course dictated that this match held huge significance. Winning will not erase all of the anguish of their previous encounters but it will ensure a bunch of great footballers have at last triumphed in a senior championship arena against Tyrone.

The prospect of losing on home soil in the championship for the first time since 1995 and exiting before the real stuff begins in August was enough to motivate them but that Tyrone would have been administering those blows spurred Kerry on further. In their eyes it was unthinkable and the fear of the negative reaction within their county boundaries fueled their ravenous appetite in this game.

The transitional phase that Tyrone are in
We spoke here last week about how Tyrone’s new players may not have been ready yet at this stage in their senior inter-county careers to come to Killarney and eke out a famous win. That suspicion was confirmed in this game and it also reinforced the fact that Tyrone are still a couple of rungs away from occupying the place on the ladder where All-Ireland title contenders reside. The manner in which they had pushed Donegal all the way in the Ulster semi-final had lead to the feeling that they were developing at a quicker rate but this game proved that they still have scope for improvement. When Kerry flexed their muscles in the second-half, Tyrone had no answer.

To be fair to them, it was an enormously difficult task to succeed against a Kerry side who were incredibly motivated by the mere sight of those white jerseys. Mickey Harte had no hesitation in subscribing to the theory that they are in transition afterwards and made the valid point that at least 2012 has brought about promotion to Division 1 of the league. That combat next spring should test them, they will hope to coax young talents like Kyle Coney and Ronan O’Neill back to full fitness while collecting an Ulster minor title yesterday proved their production lines are still working well. There is still road to travel but at least they are going in the right direction.

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte signs autographs for fans after the game. Pic: INPHO/James Crombie

The rivalry that has hostility and respect

16 yellow cards and one red card paint a picture of a turgid affair. It was certainly a war of attrition at times that was pockmarked with passages of cynicism or intelligence, depending on which team you were shouting for, in the play. Kerry had braced themselves for a physical contest and they responded to that in the first-half. The atmosphere in the stands indicated that the home supporters were clearly up for this game as well reacting with passion to Kerry scores, Tyrone fouls and David Coldrick decisions.

But if there was tension during the game, there was sportsmanship afterwards. The aura that Mickey Harte exudes was illustrated by the Kerry children who crowded him afterwards in search of his signature. The respect amongst the players was reflected in Owen Mulligan and Aidan O’Mahony embracing at the final whistle while Darran O’Sullivan made a point of shaking the hands of each Tyrone player who passed him by as he was interviewed in the tunnel afterwards. Tyrone had been well beaten and Kerry won emphatically, those were the facts that nobody could dispute. It’s been a fascinating rivalry, one that may have spawned hostility but also respect.

As It Happened: Kerry v Tyrone, All-Ireland SFC round three qualifier