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Tyrone feeding off the breakthough boys of the Noughties admits Hampsey

Tyrone at the start of the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship final between Tyrone and Kerry at Croke Park Dublin on 08-28-2021. Pic Philip Walsh
BY FRANCIS MOONEY

THE pain had taken its toll, and the long-suffering Red Hands had reached the point where they could take no more.

Thirteen years of hurt, of punishment and of fruitless attempts to fight their way into Gaelic football's elite club.

During this time, Tyrone had failed to beat any of the so-called ‘big three' – Dublin, Kerry and Mayo.

But they finally broke through last weekend with an extra-time victory over Kerry to take a step closer to a first All-Ireland title since 2008.

“This team has been about this last number of years, we have had some bad defeats and some heavy defeats,” said skipper Padraig Hampsey.

“It has all hurt us, and we took all of that on board, brought this team together and it made us a lot stronger.”

The Red Hands reached that pitch back in the Noughties, but in recent years the tank had been running on near empty when it came to Championship jousts with the Kingdom.

It was the feats of the legendary Tyrone sides of 2003, '05 and '08 that inspired Hampsey and his team-mates.

“They're the teams that we feed off, the teams that have done it in the past.

“We look up to those boys and try and take a leaf out of their book. They have been there and done it, so we look to them and try and get things going again.”

And it took all the resilience and defiance that Tyrone could muster to get the better of the Munster champions.

“Whenever Kerry brought it back to a draw, our backs were against the wall.

“But lads in defence stood up, we turned the ball over and the forwards got the scores, we worked really hard as a team.”

And the heroic performances of Conor Meyler and Kieran McGeary, who made countless tackles and turnovers, provided the side with a beating heart.

“Meyler and McGeary, they're just two Trojans, those boys love the work and they love that heat of battle.

“They're just made for it, and they're the lads that get the team going.

“It's as good as a score whenever those boys get a turnover, and it drives us boys on.

“Kieran fully deserved getting man of the match, although there were many boys who did really well.”

Stung by the concession of six goals in the League semi-final in Killarney, Tyrone turned the tables on this occasion, hitting the net three times and keeping a clean sheet at the back.

Conor McKenna (2) and Cathal McShane were the men who broke Kerry hearts with the all-important three-pointers.

“They're the men that you want to be giving the ball to in front of goal,” said Hampsey.

“And thankfully they took the opportunities whenever they came.

“With the likes of McShane, McKenna and Darragh Canavan, who had a great performance coming off the bench, they went at Kerry whenever we needed them to.

“Darragh has had a couple of bad injuries and he has worked hard to get back, and he has been rewarded for that.”

But it all came down to the final few frantic minutes, when Kerry were pressing for an equaliser against a Tyrone team holding on by a thread.

“We all knew we had a man to mark in that last passage of play, and thankfully we stayed tight to our men.

“I know that Tommy Walsh got the shot off, but the pressure was on him and thankfully he missed that last opportunity.

“Opportunities didn't arise for them, there was the likes of Clifford (Paudie) who stepped up for them recently, but thankfully Meyler closed him out.”

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