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KINGDOM TOO GOOD There is an ease to how Kerry keep the scoreboard ticking over that mirrors Dublin in 2013 and 2014

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Paudie Clifford has been in flying form for Kerry. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Paudie Clifford has been in flying form for Kerry. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Seán OShea of Kerry is one of the key men for the Kingdom. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Seán OShea of Kerry is one of the key men for the Kingdom. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

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Paudie Clifford has been in flying form for Kerry. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

They have averaged roughly 27 points per game this year and that’s more than enough to succeed in most games.

I had the pleasure of being in Listowel for a couple of days last week and there’s no doubt that there’s great excitement building in Kerry ahead of Saturday’s match against Tyrone.

As you would come to expect, there is a fair degree of confidence to be found amongst the locals as to Kerry’s chances of winning their first All-Ireland in seven years, but Tyrone have to be accounted for first as that confidence can sometimes lead to complacency.

When chatting to the locals, their main concern was reflecting on whether winning the All-Ireland and not beating Dublin in the process could be classified as a genuine All-Ireland success, but such talk is irrelevant for the time being as they set their sights on the Ulster champions.

Of course, we all know the psychological hold that Tyrone had on Kerry during the 2000s and while that mental scarring has eased over time, I still think it has some relevance for many Kerry supporters today.

Tyrone still cause nervousness in the Kingdom and those defeats in 2003, 2005 and 2008 have left an imprint that may resurface to a small degree this weekend.

However, Kerry players will ignore what happened in the past and their focus will be on their own game, plus whatever Tyrone might bring to the table.

There was a sense of controlled chaos about Tyrone in their glory years and their ability to bring something new and different to the table whenever they played Kerry was what set them apart from their opponents.

It could be that Tyrone will try something similar tomorrow, but I’m just not sure whether that will be sufficient on its own against a Kerry team for whom I have the utmost regard.

It probably pains me to say it, especially after Dublin’s loss to Mayo, but Kerry look a step ahead of every other challenger at this moment in time, and the only possible question mark hanging over them is the lack of a proper test throughout this spring and summer.

Granted, Dublin put four goals past them in the league, but I think that was an isolated example of defensive difficulty, and they have tightened up immeasurably since then.

There is an ease to how Kerry keep the scoreboard ticking over that mirrors Dublin in 2013 and 2014. They can hurt you by running the ball, kicking the ball or a deadly combination of both, which has proven too much for their opponents to date.

They have been on an upward trajectory for a couple of years now and you can fairly dismiss their loss to Cork in last year’s Munster semi-final as a one-off. They avenged that defeat in the most emphatic of manners last month, winning by 22 points and racking up 4-22 in the process and that was without David Clifford contributing a score from open play.

It’s highly unlikely their key marksman will be so quiet tomorrow. Even if he does struggle to trouble the umpires, there is more than enough depth and quality in this Kerry attack to overcome such an issue.

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Seán OShea of Kerry is one of the key men for the Kingdom. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Seán OShea of Kerry is one of the key men for the Kingdom. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Seán OShea of Kerry is one of the key men for the Kingdom. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Seán O’Shea looked particularly impressive that day while Paul Geaney chipped in with two goals, but the forward who has made the most impression on me this year is Paudie Clifford. He has been so influential in providing the fluency that forward lines thrive on and he links the play so intelligently to afford his team-mates the time and supply to do serious damage.

They have averaged roughly 27 points per game this year and that’s more than enough to succeed in most games.

Of course, it’s not just the forwards that have impressed this year. The Kerry defence, which has come in for some criticism, has improved and become more resolute during this campaign.

They have an awful lot of pace in their backline, from Tom O’Sullivan, Paul Murphy, Gavin White and Michael Breen, and the latter has been in excellent form and brought another dimension to their half-back line.

Their pace allows them to press high on their opponents and that is just one of the obstacles that Tyrone must overcome tomorrow if they’re to have any chance of winning.

They didn’t deal too well with it during the much-referenced league clash between the two counties in June, but they have learnt from that experience in the interim and appear more settled now.

Their emphasis will be on denying Kerry space and I would imagine that Frank Burns may be deployed in a sweeper role tomorrow and they will look to flood the midfield and attempt to cut Kerry attacks off at the source. Lads like Kieran McGeary, Conor McKenna and Conor Meyler are likely to be more concerned with curbing the attacking threat of the Kerry half-back line.

If and when they do that, their kick passing is good enough to provide ammunition for Mattie Donnelly and Darren McCurry.

Niall Morgan’s lengthy kick-outs will also be crucial in attempting to beat the Kerry press. Given how influential Paudie Clifford has been for Kerry, I would anticipate Tyrone assigning a man-marker to curb his threat.

Without a doubt, they possess some quality players and are moving in the right direction, but there is still a sense that they are trying to find themselves and a new identity after so many years under the management of Mickey Harte.

They weren’t overly impressive in beating Monaghan in the Ulster final but at least they have had some tough encounters under their belts and that’s a factor that shouldn’t be underestimated.

However, Kerry are further down the line in terms of their development and they certainly enjoy an edge on Tyrone in terms of the quality of players at their disposal.

It’s all leaning towards a Kerry victory.

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