Kerry must tighten up to prevent more Tyrone joy in Killarney

Allianz Football League Division One, round five: Kerry v Tyrone (Killarney, 1.15pm Sunday)

Tyrone captain Padraig Hampsey (left) marked his Kerry counterpart David Clifford in both League and Championship.
In 2023 Tyrone captain Padraig Hampsey (left) marked his Kerry counterpart David Clifford in both League and Championship.

Tyrone players celebrating in Killarney used to be a rarity but they were at it again last month. The sizeable contingent of Red Hand players on the Ulster University team and panel were among those staying over to enjoy the Sigerson Cup triumph achieved in nearby Tralee.

Tyrone seniors also won on their last trip here, helping secure Division One survival in 2022 with a one-point win in round seven, their first victory at this venue for 19 years.

Indeed the visitors are aiming for a third consecutive league win over the Kingdom, having beaten them by three points in the reverse round five fixture in Omagh last year.

Completing that hat-trick of victories will be tough task, though, a different ask.

Last season the Red Hands were desperate to win, having lost three of their opening four league games, only beating troubled Donegal.

On that occasion in Killarney two years ago Kerry had already achieved a place in the League Final, whereas Tyrone were battling to avoid relegation.

Now, the hosts’ need for points is just as great as that of their visitors.

It may come as something of a surprise but Kerry are actually below Tyrone in the league table, albeit by the minimum margin on scoring difference.

Jack O’Connor’s men also have greater motivation to put in a performance and achieve a win.

While Tyrone will wish to carry on where they left off, with their superb second half showing against Mayo in Healy Park, the Kingdom must start afresh after their thumping in Croke Park.

Darragh Canavan
Darragh Canavan grabbed 1-4 as Tyrone overcame Mayo at Healy Park Picture: Margaret McLaughlin

Defeats to Dublin always rankle for Kerry, but that 10-point loss will really sting, not least because the Dubs’ Con O’Callaghan scored three goals.

Tyrone have conceded a goal per game so far but otherwise haven’t been shipping big scores, averaging only 1-11 against. Unfortunately the Red Hands have suffered two defensive blows, with both Michael McKernan and Aidan Clarke ruled out by hand and foot injuries respectively.

Kerry had been pretty defensively sound too, up until last weekend, with only Monaghan finding their net as they’d averaged concessions of 0-15.

Dublin’s 3-18 was alarming, but obviously the All-Ireland champions are capable of special things. Former Tyrone coach Paddy Tally will demand the Kingdom restore their defensive frugality against his home county.

Kerry manager Jack O'Connor (left) and Paddy Tally before this year's Division One game against his native Tyrone at Healy Park, Omagh. Pic Philip Walsh
Kerry manager Jack O'Connor (left) and Paddy Tally before last year's Division One game against his native Tyrone at Healy Park, Omagh. Pic Philip Walsh

Meetings between these two have come regularly recently, with big wins for Kerry in the 2021 League semi-final in Killarney and last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final. Most memorably, however, Tyrone triumphed after extra time in the 2021 All-Ireland semi-final.

The Red Hands will have to draw on the spirit of that day, the sense being that they did so with their intense second half display against Mayo last Saturday evening.

The young bloods stood up, in the continued absence of half a dozen bigger names.

There is hope that one of their 2021 heroes, full-forward Cathal McShane could be available for selection after injury, while that season’s Footballer of the Year, Kieran McGeary, has already returned to action.

In his absence, Darren McCurry – outstanding in Killarney two seasons back – came off the bench to inspire victory last Saturday, adding to the attacking talents of UU’s Sigerson Final talisman, Darragh Canavan.

A different DC, David Clifford, will clearly be a major threat to the weakened Tyrone rear-guard. His brother, and successor as captain, Paudie, is another established star, along with Seanie O’Shea, but O’Connor has been giving chances to newer faces such as Cillian Burke and Dylan Geaney.

He did likewise in defence against, including Dylan Casey and Damien Bourke, but whatever side he selects a more determined Kerry should have enough to prevent further Red Hand joy in Killarney.