GAA Football

The chase resumes for old rivals

"It was that euphoria of running onto the pitch, in one sense you didn't really know what was going on, you were running around looking around you." - Conor Meyler. Picture by Colm O'Reilly.

NOUVEAU riche. Two words that have come to define a rivalry.

When Jack O'Connor's book ‘Keys to the Kingdom' gave an insight into what Kerry really thought of Tyrone, it only made the victories clasped by the Red Hand seem sweeter.

“Losing to Tyrone is worse than losing to almost anybody else. Not that there's much history between us. That's the point. “There's an arrogance to northern football which rubs Kerry people up the wrong way. They're flash and nouveau riche and full of it,” said the former Kingdom boss.

They're words that extend beyond the cycle of a single team. While it was the three-time All-Ireland winning Tyrone team that he couldn't get the better of, it read like a broadside at an entire county.

The sides are back together in Croke Park tomorrow and unsurprisingly, Mickey Harte wasn't keen on fanning the flames of comments a decade old.

“Maybe people in the media were elevating us to a height that we didn't deserve to be at, but it was all relative. Relative to what Kerry had achieved, this wasn't anything wonderful,” said the Tyrone boss this week when O'Connor's comments were regurgitated at him.

“It was wonderful for a team who had never done it before of course, and it he felt we were getting too much air space for once-off event, then he was entitled to think that.”

There's a sense that football has turned back on itself of late. The kicking game that Kerry so love is back in vogue, and they're back at the head of the queue for extolling its virtues.

It's 16 years since that famous semi-final in which Tyrone, contrary to revisionism, hounded rather than squeezed Kerry out of Croke Park. The term ‘blanket defence' was born out of a ravenous tackling scene that happened on Kerry's 45'.

Tyrone would have taken their three All-Irelands whatever way they came, but to have stood on their own two feet against the aristocrats in a semi-final and two finals leaves a deeper sense of achievement now that the glee has subsided.

It was hardly a weak Kerry either, for they'd still claim their four All-Irelands marked them out as the team of the noughties above Mickey Harte's men. It's not a claim that would withstand much scrutiny.

“I hated them when they beat us, hated them for that swagger,” Tomás Ó Sé would admit after retirement in 2014.

“Maybe the biggest regret I have in football is that we didn't beat that Tyrone team when it mattered.”

He was part of the team that handsomely won the 2012 qualifier in Killarney, but to quote the great number five again, it was a “skeleton” of Tyrone by then.

The Kerry fans' kind gestures towards Mickey Harte after the game were widely remembered in a positive sense from both ends, until Sean Cavanagh labelled them “patronising” this summer.

"It was strange that day,” he wrote.

“Their fans were riled on the terraces. They beat us well. They beat us out the gate, and you thought, 'Jesus, these guys are absolute dogs'.

"And then I remember as we were leaving the changing room, walking out onto the team bus there were hundreds of Kerry supporters, all clapping us. Either side of us, as we were walking through.

"They were back slapping us, 'ah youse are great lads', and all this. To me, it seemed a wee bit patronising.”

Again, Harte took the jerry can of fuel and stored it away, deflecting such talk as he sat surrounded by dictaphones in Garvaghey early on Monday morning.

“No, I didn't sense that at all. I think that Killarney is a sacred place for them. They don't like people coming in and taking anything out of there, and I appreciate that.

“I would love to have a place like that, where people fear coming to, and can expect the Galatasaray effect.

“They're entitled to do that, and I think that's what supporters are about, to raise the stakes for the opposition, and in the midst of that too I thought they were very respectful of us.”

The two counties couldn't be more different. And even though the great spell between them kind of ended in 2008, and they've both had dry spells since, it's all recent enough for this generation to cling to.

Even the youngest of them were about to sample the richness, and the darkness, of what was essentially a frenetic five-year spell.

“It was that euphoria of running onto the pitch, in one sense you didn't really know what was going on, you were running around looking around you,” recalls Conor Meyler, who was 20 when he started the All-Ireland semi-final meeting four years ago.

“I still have those memories, that's what you're always chasing, chasing that sort of feeling.

“I don't know what it'll be like when you get it, but it's what you're chasing.”

Someone's chase ends tomorrow.

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