GAA Football

Tyrone can bounce back and end their long wait for win in Kerry

Tyrone's Sean Cavanagh tracked by Kerry's Bryan Sheehan at Healy Park in 2015. Picture Colm O'Reilly

Allianz Football League Division One, round seven: Kerry v Tyrone (Sunday, Killarney, 2pm)

DEFEAT won't demote Tyrone tomorrow - but they will still feel down if they lose.

Although victory won't definitely secure a place in the Division One Final, the psychological boost of beating Kerry would lift the Red Hands significantly ahead of the Championship.

Tyrone won't travel to Killarney with much confidence, partly because they've only picked up one point from their last two games (against Donegal and Mayo), more so because of the 'who' and the 'where' of this encounter.

Although meetings with Kerry have usually been extremely tight tussles since Mickey Harte took charge of Tyrone, Red Hands may still shake at the memory of the 3-15 to 0-9 humiliation they suffered in Fitzgerald Stadium in round four of 2014's Division One.

In the immediate aftermath of that thrashing three years ago Harte commented ruefully that "we seem to bring the best out in them and the worst in us."

That might have seemed like post poor performance disappointment – except that Harte had made similar comments before the game.

The facts bear him out. For all the debate over which was `the team of the decade' in the 2000s, Tyrone's three famous victories in two All-Ireland finals and one semi-final have painted a rosier picture of their recent rivalry with Kerry, one that reflects them in a more flattering light than the reality.

It may seem surprising, but the Red Hands have only beaten Kerry once in seven meetings since the 2008 All-Ireland Final, and that was a one-point win in the League in Omagh in 2010. Tyrone have suffered five defeats in that run with just one draw – and even then that ended in relegation for them, rather than Kerry, two years ago.

Winning in Kerry has been even rarer: there was a league draw in Tralee a decade ago but victory in Killarney is a feat not achieved since Harte's first season in charge.

Tyrone need to go back to that spirit of 2003. Although the All-Ireland semi-final provides the enduring iconic images of swarms of Red Hands hounding and harassing Kerry players to turn over possession, the template was arguably set down in Killarney earlier that year.

Tyrone won by 1-13 to 0-14 and this paper's coverage commented that the visitors "hunted in packs, tackled like tigers, and converted a decent percentage of possession into scores."

They've largely done the first two elements of that formula ever since; the third part has been the big problem, most notably in big games, although of course those tend to be tighter and therefore wasted chances are more costly.

Tyrone's profligacy cost them once again last weekend, once again against Mayo, leading to another one-point defeat against the westerners, one that has left reaching the League final out of their hands.

Of course, Kerry are still at a slight risk of relegation, although that would require a significant scoring difference swing for Cavan in Roscommon.

The Kingdom might even make the final on scoring difference, which is not that far-fetched a prospect, only also requiring wins for Dublin (in Monaghan) and Mayo (at home to Donegal).

The intriguing aspect for Tyrone is that there's no risk attached to defeat for them.

Only Cavan have scored less than them in Division One so far but the visitors can – and should – go for it.

The losses of Mattie Donnelly and Ronan McNamee (to suspension and injury respectively) are setbacks but only relegated Roscommon have conceded more than this new-look Kerry team.

Tyrone can do enough to scratch their two times seven-year itch in Kerry – but a place in the final may be just beyond the Red Hands' grasp.

Kerry: B Kealy; F Fitzgerald, M Griffin, R Shanahan; P Crowley, T Morley, P Murphy; D Moran, A Maher; M Geaney, K McCarthy, D Walsh; BJ Keane, P Geaney, S O’Brien

Tyrone: M O'Neill; A McCrory, P Hampsey, C McCarron; T McCann, R McNabb (above), P Harte; C Cavanagh, P McNulty; C McCann, N Sludden, K McGeary; M Bradley, S Cavanagh, D McCurry

Referee: Marty Duffy (Sligo)

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