GAA Football

Mickey Harte: Tyrone must raise the bar to compete with Kerry

Tyrone's Stephen O'Neill breaks through Kerry's Seamus Moynihan and Eamonn Fitzmaurice during the 2003 All-Ireland semi-final

TYRONE boss Mickey Harte says his players must “raise the bar to a new level” to compete with reigning All-Ireland champions Kerry in Sunday’s semi-final showdown at Croke Park.

While the Red Hands enjoyed the upper hand on the Championship stage against the Kingdom during the ‘Noughties’ – beating them in the 2005 and ’08 All-Ireland deciders as well as ambushing Paidí Ó Sé’s Kerry side in the ’03 semi-finals – the old order has been restored in recent times.

Kerry gained revenge in a 2012 All-Ireland Qualifier clash in Killarney, humbling the Red Hands 1-16 to 1-6, with James O’Donoghue, Kieran Donaghy and Colm Cooper scoring a combined 1-7 in the rout.

The Red Hands squad has changed considerably since their last Championship clash with Kerry. Eleven players who played some part in that crushing defeat in sun-drenched Killarney three summers ago – Pascal McConnell, Conor Gormley, Dermot Carlin, Sean O’Neill, Mark Donnelly, Martin Penrose, Owen Mulligan, Brian McGuigan, Ryan McMenamin, Aidan Cassidy and Damien McCaul – have either retired or are no longer part of the current senior panel.

Harte has bitter memories of that 2012 hammering as well as last season’s 3-15 to 0-9 NFL loss to Kerry in which Harte described afterwards as a “dreadful performance”.

Earlier this season, Tyrone and Kerry played out an entertaining draw in Omagh in the last round of Division One, but it wasn’t enough to save the Ulstermen from relegation.

“We have to raise our bar to a new level if we’re going to compete with Kerry, and that’s the challenge for us,” said Harte.

“We won’t know until we face that challenge whether we can raise ourselves to that level or not, but we have to endeavour to do that.”

On the 2012 Qualifier loss to Kerry, the Tyrone boss said: “It was one of those landmarks times, there’s been a few other times when we shipped a bit of a beating.

“That wouldn’t have been par for the course in the previous eight or 10 years.

“We have had to learn from some hurtful defeats, and obviously our League defeat to Kerry in Killarney less time ago than that wasn’t pleasant either.”

Harte added: “These things happen, there was a transition happening in our team. A lot of the men who have soldiered well for us for a lot of years and it was question of maybe there wasn’t enough good, young players ready to take their place…

“Maybe we had to balance that a bit and that’s why maybe it took a little more time for us to arrive close to where we are now.

“It’s all in the name of the game to make that transition by keeping as many of the good experienced players as you can as long as it fits in with the plan or strategy you want to play.”

Even when Tyrone did get the better of Kerry in the last decade, Harte acknowledged results could have gone either way.

“Probably the 2003 All-Ireland semi-final was the best one for us because we kind of caught them on the hop a bit.

By the time they realised we were in a good position, it was almost too late [for them].

“In 2005 the rub of the green just went our way in certain scoring situations. In 2008, the same.

“Kerry looked in a good position right into the second half and we just clicked at the right time, we got three or four very important scores.

“Any of the days we won we could have lost… This is a new ball game, they are in pole position so we have to be at the top of our game to be in with a chance of taking this one, but if we are at the top of our game we have a fighting chance.”

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