The first of this year’s All-Ireland football semi-finals is on this coming Sunday so I guess it’s worth having a think about this game. This isn’t a case of getting ahead of ourselves – I don’t think any of us are in anything other than one-game-at-a-time mode now – but it’s just simply that Sunday’s tie is one of the three matches left to play in this year’s championship.
Before turning to the Kerry/Tyrone match, though, there’s some other coverage in today’s papers that’s worth flagging, concerning as it does our game on Sunday week.
There’s a piece in today’s Irish Independent with Dublin manager Jim Gavin who does his bit to big us up, saying we have momentum coming into the contest following the win over Donegal. But then in the same piece, Jim describes the one-sided thumping they gave us in the League earlier this year as “a cracking game.” He also reckons that the black card is doing its job, that there’s no diving epidemic at the minute and that refereeing standards and consistency in officiating are improving all the time. Can I have a shot of whatever it was he was drinking?
Staying with our match, County Board PRO Aiden McLoughlin is quoted in a piece in the Irish Examiner about the demand for tickets within the county for Sunday week. Aiden explains that the original plan was to make some tickets available for general sale this week but he says that the strong online sales last week combined with the likelihood that the allocation they have for distribution to the clubs won’t satisfy demand means there’ll be none left over to do this. Sold out means sold out, in other words.
Right, onto Sunday’s game, where already there’s plenty of talk so far this week about what was the defining rivalry in Gaelic football in the Noughties, one that, though long over now, means there’ll be a fair bit of an edge to Sunday’s penultimate round meeting between Kerry and Tyrone. Kerry had ten points to spare over Mickey Harte’s team when the counties last met in the championship – in a Round 3 qualifier tie in Killarney in 2012 – but it’ll be their first meeting at HQ since the 2008 All-Ireland final, when the Red Hand lowered the Kingdom’s colours for the third time in six years.
Tyrone beat Kerry in winning each of the three All-Irelands they won in that decade, twice in the final, but the match that still sticks in Kerry’s craw was surely the first one, back in the 2003 semi-final, when they got chewed up and spat out by Tyrone and their ferocious swarm tactics. It was, of course, that one that also spawned Pat Spillane’s bile about “puke football”, a moniker that the Red Hand have never subsequently been able to shake off.
Although Kerry celebrated that qualifier win in 2012 like they’d won Sam – I recall at the time remarking somewhat facetiously about how that win was Kerry’s All-Ireland that year (so it proved as Donegal beat them in the quarters a few weeks later) – Sunday’s semi-final is their first opportunity since then to take Tyrone down in Croke Park. It’s not the same Tyrone nowadays, of course, with only the two Cavanaghs and Justin McMahon (with Joe out injured) left from the 2008 team but Kerry have plenty more survivors from then in their ranks and they’ll all be keen to assuage some old nightmares against a county that fairly had their number in the last decade.
The Tiernan McCann affair – and the everyone-is-agin-us feeling it’s sure to have engendered in Tyrone, not least given the talent shown by the Kerry lads to take a dive when the situation warrants it without The Sunday Game exploding in a welter of righteous indignation – provides a combustible backdrop to Sunday’s semi. If McCann gets off tonight – which he surely will, given that the charge is a totally trumped-up one – that might cool tempers somewhat but there’s sure to be a distinct whiff of cordite in the air around HQ on Sunday afternoon all the same.
For my money, Tyrone are only a pale shadow of that great 2003/8 team and while I reckon the current Kerry team are anything but unbeatable (having used up at least a decade’s worth of luck last year) they’ll surely have more than enough in the locker to win this one. The bookies have Kerry at 3/10 to win this one and I’d be surprised if there’s anything less than five or six points between them at the finish.
What do you reckon – who’ll win on Sunday?
Who'll win on Sunday?
- Kerry (64%, 238 Votes)
- Tyrone (36%, 132 Votes)
Total Voters: 370