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Tyrone transformed, Kerry left stunned and an unexpected All-Ireland final pairing

A look at some key issues that emerged following yesterday’s action at Croke Park.

Cathal McShane and Paudie Clifford after the game.
Cathal McShane and Paudie Clifford after the game.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

1. Tyrone’s transformation

In so many ways, yesterday at Croke Park could be regarded as a tale of Tyrone transformation. Naturally there is the journey from being on the verge of exiting the championship to this landmark All-Ireland semi-final success. After a build-up marred by Covid cases, fractured preparations, a sense of uncertainty over the fixture and a question mark over Tyrone’s prospects, the Ulster champions still managed to secure a victory.

But zoom out and there is also Tyrone turning around the county’s losing streak to Kerry in championship fare with defeats in the qualifier in 2012 and the semi-finals of 2015 and 2019, the latter most relevant for the current group as they backboned that team and saw their four-point interval advantage slip away.

Then within this season, it is only 11 weeks since Tyrone landed in Killarney and were pulverized as Kerry ransacked their defence for six goals. It may have been a league encounter but it would have generated enough doubts that Tyrone needed to dispel.

And then there was Tyrone’s recovery yesterday during normal time. They trailed from the 45th to 68th minutes, and while Kerry’s lead was far from substantial, Tyrone’s scores had noticeably dried up. It needed the Donnelly-Canavan-McShane triumvirate to conjure up a goal that ignited their charge again. 

They availed of that opportunity to claim a famous win for the county.

kieran-mcgeary-celebrates-at-the-final-whistle Kieran McGeary celebrates Tyrone's win. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

2. Kerry left stunned

Throughout the course of the league, where they shared the title, and the Munster championship, where they strolled to success, Kerry had blazed a trail across the 2021 football landscape. Yet on the day when the biggest prize in Gaelic football will be handed out for the year, Kerry will be marked absent next month. The standard by which they judge themselves is one they have fallen short of and the manner of this latest championship exit will hurt as they couldn’t cope when climbing to higher altitude.

Kerry were left stunned by a knockout blow, a point adrift after a marathon affair as they could not atone for a costly phase at the start of extra-time when they leaked 1-2. Kerry’s regrets will also stem from normal time at not putting Tyrone away with their attacking play featuring poor shots and poor decision-making. They could never get more than two points in front on the scoreboard and paid for that.

A long winter awaits to stew over a defeat that ends their silverware aspirations.

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tommy-walsh-unable-to-score-a-late-point-to-level-the-game-under-pressure-from-ronan-mcnamee Tommy Walsh tries a late shot to tie the game. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

3. An unexpected All-Ireland final pairing

So after two lengthy semi-final ties that necessitated extra-time, neither Dublin or Kerry emerged victors. It will be only the fourth time in the last 20 deciders that neither of Gaelic football’s traditional Big Two are involved. Ever since they served up a pair of enthralling games in 2019, there has been a sense of waiting for them to contest another final. It was envisaged that both would be vigorously tested in these semi-finals but both of them suffering defeats was not a scenario that many expected.

Tyrone and Mayo will sense a major opportunity awaits. With no All-Ireland senior medals amongst either bunch of players, the first time that factor has been at play since the 2012 final, the fixture will contain an extra layer of novelty and anticipation.

aidan-oshea-with-matthew-donnelly Aidan O'Shea and Mattie Donnelly. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

For Tyrone there is the chance to scale the heights they watched the class of the noughties attain, exemplified by their current joint manager Brian Dooher, while also pushing on from the disappointment at falling short in 2018. Mayo’s players and the county in general have a longer list of scarring final experiences as their wait for Sam Maguire stretches back seven decades. 

Either way it will be a momentous occasion as new champions are crowned.

About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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