Tyrone relegated; Kerry miss out on semi-finals
TYRONE 0-17 KERRY 1-14
An absorbing contest in Omagh produced a draw which wasn't enough to save Tyrone from relegation, nor was it sufficient to secure the All-Ireland champions a place in the semi-finals of the competition.
Nonetheless, it was a satisfactory afternoon for Kerry boss, Eamon Fitzmaurice.
For the second time in three seasons his Kerry team went to Omagh needing a result to keep their place in the top flight. As it transpired, had Kerry lost - regardless of the margin - they would have been relegated because the Mayo v Donegal game ended level.
But this result also left the door ajar for the Kingdom to leapfrog past them and join Cork, Dublin and Monaghan in the semi-finals. But despite leading by four points with 17 minutes remaining they couldn't hold out for the victory and while they finished level on seven league points with Mayo and Donegal they lost out on the scoring difference with Donegal for a semi-final slot.
Nonetheless, the return to action of Colm Cooper will quickly overshadow the disappointment of again not reaching the last four in the league - they have never managed to make the play-offs under Fitzmaurice.
Cooper - who underwent reconstructive knee surgery after severing his cruciate ligament in the All-Ireland club semi-final last March - was making his first appearance for the Kingdom since the 2013 All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Dublin.
The Gooch made his appearance late in the final quarter and made his presence felt providing the assist with a trademark cross-field pass which Kieran Donaghy converted to give Kerry a one-point advantage a minute from the end of normal time.
The Kerry captain's total touches of the ball didn't make it to double figures but what an impact he had. Apart from scoring the point his assists led to 1-3 of Kerry's total.
Ultimately, the visitors' 44th minute goal effectively sealed Tyrone's fate. It was Donaghy's catch that created the initial danger; he linked up with half-time substitute Darran O'Sullivan and although his shot was blocked the rebound fell kindly to another Kerry substitute, Paul Geaney, who found the net from close range.
However, a point from Damien McCurry in the third minute of added time tied up the contest for the fifth time. It was surprising to see him opting for a point because a draw was of no use to the home side whose record at Healy Park is woeful - they have won only three of their last 12 league and championship matches at the venue.
For the first time since he took over as Tyrone boss in 2002 Mickey Harte was absent; he is recovering at home following a surgical procedure last Monday. In his absence Gavin Devlin ran the line, although interestingly Tony Donnelly - who stepped down as Harte's assistant last summer - was in the dug-out.
No more than Clare hurlers last Sunday, Tyrone fans will feel that if they had played as well in the previous six rounds as they did against Kerry they would not have ended up being relegated.
Incredibly, they failed to win a home game in the series - drawing against Kerry and Derry and losing to Monaghan and Cork. They don't need reminding that with four games on home soil there is simply no excuse for ending up second from bottom. But at least they gave a more spirited performance than last week when they effectively imploded against Donegal.
While the blanket defence was again in evidence, this was still a fascinating game and the quality of the long-range point taking - particularly in the first half - was breathtaking.
Overall though, Kerry were far more cynical that the home side. They looked vulnerable when Tyrone ran at them in the first half and conceded a succession of frees which Sean Cavanagh converted.
But it was their tactics in the final quarter when Tyrone were chasing down a four-point lead that deserve most scrutiny and condemnation.
They engaged in a lot of cynical fouling as evident by the fact that Anthony Maher, Marc O'Se and Jonathan Lyne - who committed three personal fouls - were all booked in the closing stages while Stephen O'Brien was black carded early in the second half.
Wonderful long range points from Johnny Buckley, David Moran, Bryan Sheehan - from play and placed ball - and likewise from Peter Harte and Darren McCurry were the highlights of the first half which saw Tyrone lead 0-8 to 0-7 at the break.
But despite outscoring the visitors 7-4 in a thrilling final quarter it was too late to save Tyrone from Division 2 football in 2015.