gaa verdict | 

There wasn't even a hint that the Tyrone players had been impacted by Covid

Kerry can have no excuses as Red Hand were hungrier, fitter, fresher, sharper and more organised

Cathal McShane of Tyrone celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship semi-final match between Kerry and Tyrone at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

Pat Spillane

Hand on heart, I never saw this coming.

I doubt if anybody outside Tyrone thought the Ulster champions would overcome the Kingdom – and I suspect the Tyrone fans who travelled to Croke Park would have been happy to see their minor teams take the All-Ireland and their senior side give a good account of themselves.

Instead, the minors lost to Meath and the senior team came back to haunt Kerry – just like they did between 2003 and 2008.

The senior game is virtually impossible to analyse – at least rationally.

Kerry were the team who were scoring goals for free this year. They hit Tyrone for six when the sides clashes in the league in Killarney and scored seven in the Munster championship.

Meanwhile, Tyrone had managed one goal in the Ulster series, but hit three against Kerry while the Munster champions failed to raise a single green flag.

Secondly, Kerry dismantled Tyrone’s kick-out strategy. They pressed up on Niall Morgan’s restarts and forced him to go long but Kerry dominated here for the most part and still they lost.

Again, it defied logic.

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Down in Kerry we will have a long winter to reflect on what happened, but I guess it was set up for a classic ambush, and fair dues to Tyrone.

Kerry came into the game completely untested. The last time they were seriously challenged was against Dublin in the league last May. Nobody laid a glove on them in the Munster series, and they were allowed play the games entirely on their own terms.

They looked good but it wasn’t the ideal preparation for a battle-hardened side who had to beat two Division 1 sides on their way to the semi-final. So Kerry were in a lose-lose situation.

The five week break since the Munster final did them no favour either and all the talk about Covid being widespread in the Tyrone camp appeared to impact more on Kerry than it did on Tyrone, but I will deal with that aspect of the story presently.

Listen, at the end of the day we can talk until we are blue in the face about match-ups, games plans and strength and conditioning but the bottom line is that Tyrone wanted this win more than Kerry.

They were hungrier, fitter, fresher, sharper and more organised.

Kerry waited around for it to happen; Tyrone made it happen – none more so than in extra time, when they grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and scored 1-2.

Tyrone won virtually all the individual battles bar David Clifford v Ronan McNamee and their substitutes made a far bigger impact than the Kerry replacements.

Cathal McShane scored 1-3, whereas the only Kerry substitute to score was Diarmuid O’Connor with a point in extra time.

Tyrone repeatedly put their bodies on the line; Kerry didn’t and that was the difference. They had more desire to get over the finish line than Kerry.

The Tyrone management team of Brian Dooher and Feargal Logan have played a blinder all season and have transformed the way the teams plays compared to the Mickey Harte era.

Tyrone now play with the handbrake off – of course they are still defensive but they now play like a team which has been liberated.

They were happy to talk to RTÉ before and after the game. So, no more nonsense about bans.

I don’t want to dwell on the Covid-19 issue least I be accused of wanting to make excuses for Kerry loss.

However, Tyrone pulled a stroke on this one. They played a high stakes game of poker and won hands down.

They lobbed a grenade into the laps of the GAA and Kerry two weeks ago, when they said they wouldn’t be able to field a team if the semi-final went ahead as scheduled last Saturday.

The GAA and Kerry blinked and Tyrone got their way.

There ought to a module in business management schools on their tactics and negotiation skills.

There wasn’t even a hint that any of the Tyrone players yesterday had been impacted in the slightest by Covid.

So, there is only two possible explanation for what unfolded.

Either the Tyrone squad have defied medical science and are able to run better and faster after getting over the virus or the Covid situation was not as bad as they made it out to be.

So went did it go wrong for Kerry?

During normal time between them David Clifford and Seán O’Shea had scored 0-15 out of their 0-17 total. The other four forwards or the replacement made no tangible impact.

Though the margin in the end was just one point Kerry could have no complaints, no major refereeing decision went against them, there was no hard-luck stories; there were two 10-minute periods when they had an extra man and they still couldn’t win.

There is an emperor has no clothes theme about this Kerry débâcle. This was supposed to be our golden generation of players who did so much at minor level. But these players have now failed to deliver at senior level for the third year in a row.

There is a Groundhog Day feeling to what has befallen them. They failed to press home their advantage against Dublin in the 2019 drawn All-Ireland; they were beaten in extra time by Cork in last year’s Munster semi-final and lost again in extra time yesterday.

The same mistakes continue to be made: wrong options taken, the lack of on-field leaders and rash decisions taken at critical moments in the game.

In last year’s Munster semi-final Tommy Walsh failed to deal with a high ball into the square and Mark Keane scores the winning goal for Cork.

Yesterday another high ball into the Kerry square. Jack Barry fumbles the catch and swings a leg at it and it goes straight to Conor McKenna who scores what was effectively the winning goal.

This was Peter Keane’s third year in charge. Ultimately, the players didn’t deliver for him. But he was asked to add to his management team and he recruited an adventurer/mountaineer.

We’re back at the foot of the mountain and no one to blame but ourselves.

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