GAA Football

Kerry forward Stephen O'Brien braced for battle after Tyrone semi-final gets go-ahead

Stephen O'Brien celebrates his goal in Kerry's three-point win against Tyrone in the 2019 All-Ireland semi-final. Picture by Philip Walsh.
Andy Watters

THE hype around this Kerry team has been building since their 4-22 to 1-9 obliteration of neighbours Cork in the Munster final on July 25.

Dublin’s long reign has now come to an end, but the Kingdom had already been installed as Sam Maguire favourites before a ball had been kicked at the semi-final stage. They will have to wait until August 28 for their last-four fixture but after confirmation that the on-off clash with Tyrone is definitely on, forward Stephen O’Brien expects a grind despite what the bookies’ say.

“I was watching the Olympics and how many times did the favourites lose there?” asked the Kerry forward.

“The USA team didn’t even make the final of the 4x100m and they were the champions and the favourites going into it. It’s often the case that the favourites don’t end up winning.”

It’s no surprise that the Kenmare half-forward played down the hype over the fearsome strength of the Kingdom forward unit. Sean O’Shea and David Clifford have led the way in the scoring stakes but Clifford registered just one free in the Munster final win and Paul Geaney, Killian Spillane and younger brother Paudie picked up the slack.

All-tolled, there are around a dozen players competing for six places, even after James O’Donoghue was forced to walk away due to injury.

“There is huge pressure,” said O’Brien, scorer of a vital goal when Kerry knocked out Tyrone at the 2019 semi-final stage.

“But when you play for Kerry that is something you have to deal with. We have had very strong forwards over the years and there is huge competition.

“This year, maybe more than any other year, when lads have been out of the team they have handled it with grace and professionalism. When Paul Murphy (captain) didn’t start the Clare and Tipperary games the class that he handled that with really epitomised him as a player and it adds so much to the ethos of the team.”

Kerry’s last All-Ireland was captured in 2014. The Dubs took over after that but, with Dessie Farrell’s men now out of the picture, some in the Kingdom will see this year’s title as there for the taking.

“That’s definitely a pressure that is on us but pressure is a privilege as they say,” says O’Brien.

“We’re aiming for those heights even though we haven’t reached them in the last number of years and we’re in a very good place.

“Everything is clicking for us and the management have us well prepared. This year we had three games in Munster and three good tests so we are well prepared.

“We know we have a big test now. It’s going to be huge, Tyrone had a strong Ulster Championship – they beat Donegal and Monaghan, two Division One teams, and knocked out Cavan as well.

“They are a very strong team so we’re going to have a major test against them. They bring a serious intensity to every game so it’ll be very important that we stay patient and try not to lose the ball because they’re a very good counterattacking team.

“They have excellent forwards, really good ball-players so we have to be tuned-in at the back and make sure we get plenty of pressure on them out the field to give our backs a chance against their top-level forwards.

“You expect intensity. Brian Dooher was part of those great teams that won All-Irelands so we’ll have to be ready for a battle.”

KERRY manager Peter Keane is expected to have a full pack to choose from for the clash with Tyrone and part of the credit for that clean bill of health has to go to a man who was born and bred within walking distance of the River Blackwater.

Former Armagh minor star Jason McGahan is Kerry’s strength and conditioning coach and the former Tullysarran O’Connell’s clubman is well thought of in the Kingdom camp these days.

“He is an excellent coach and we’re really lucky to have him in charge of the S&C,” said Kerry forward Stephen O’Brien.

“A lot of the work he has done over the last couple of years is coming to fruition now and I feel like we’re in a good place physically.”

McGahan cut his teeth in the inter-county scene with Kildare where he worked alongside Cian O’Brien before taking up his role with Kerry in November 2018.

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