Little at stake as Tyrone and Kerry set to renew rivalriy in Omagh
Allianz National Football League Division One: Tyrone v Kerry (tomorrow, 3pm, Omagh)
THE patrons filing through the gates at Healy Park tomorrow won’t need to delve too deep into their memory banks to recall the last time Tyrone welcomed Kerry to Omagh on the final day of the League.
April 5, 2015. The Red Hands were dangling over the precipice, their hopes of staying in Division One hanging by a thread. It wasn’t the best time to be looking a favour from one of your biggest rivals.
Sitting second from bottom, they needed to win by at least two points to avoid the drop – a result which would, in turn, have sent the Kingdom through the trapdoor. There were permutations at every turn.
A marvellous game see-sawed back and forth, tempers flared, supporters roared themselves hoarse and a dramatic finish saw Tyrone – fruitlessly in the end - go in search of the goal that would have given them what they need.
It was breathless stuff and, in terms of what was at stake, the polar opposite to tomorrow’s latest clash between these fabled old foes when little but pride will be at play.
Securing their Division One status was the primary objective for Mickey Harte and Eamonn Fitzmaurice and, despite some rocky moments along the way, that feat was finally achieved last weekend.
Kerry drove another nail into the Kildare coffin while Tyrone blasted past Mayo as both ensured they could canter comfortably towards the finishing post, rather than heading down the last looking over their shoulders.
Dublin and Galway are already guaranteed to renew hostilities in next week’s Division One final, while Donegal shoot-out against Mayo to decide who will join Kildare in the second tier next year.
Of all this weekend’s Division One games, the battle of Ballybofey is the only one that carries any real significance in terms of League standing.
Therefore it is hard to know exactly what to expect in Omagh tomorrow. Maybe Tyrone and Kerry will just throw off the shackles, abandon the blankets and have a right cut off each other to send fans home happy?
No, me either.
Safety secured, Harte’s attention will have turned to the May 20 Ulster Championship date with Monaghan as they set about completing a hat-trick of Anglo-Celt successes.
And if they manage to win tomorrow, they will head towards the summer on the back of three League victories on the bounce – a complete role reversal from last year (though they still blitzed their way through Ulster regardless).
The manner of last weekend’s win out west will have come as a major confidence boost as Mayo had proved to be Tyrone’s bogeymen in recent times. Not that they’ve had much joy out of the Kingdom either, with one League win from eight dating back to 2007 hardly a record worth shouting about.
Kerry have blown hot and cold through the League, though Fitzmaurice will have taken huge encouragement from the performances of young stars David Clifford and, in particular, Sean O’Shea.
Tyrone, on the other hand, can also take positives into the Championship, most notably the free-scoring Lee Brennan, while Cathal McShane is really starting to deliver on his huge potential.
Both are named in a team that shows eight changes from the Mayo game, with injury forcing the absence of Niall Sludden and Hugh Pat McGeary while Ronan McNamee, Ronan McNabb, Rory Brennan, Declan McClure, Conall McCann and Ronan O’Neill come in.
Whatever happens at Healy Park tomorrow, it is unlikely we will still be talking about it in three years’ time – indeed maybe not even in three months’ time as both have bigger fish to fry down the line.
Tyrone: N Morgan; P Hampsey, R McNamee, A McCrory; R McNabb, F Burns, R Brennan; C Cavanagh, D McClure; M Donnelly, P Harte, C McCann; L Brennan, C McShane, R O’Neill