Red Hand stand in the way of Mayo dream

Watching brief: Ciaran McDonald and James Horan were keeping an eye on the proceedings in Croke Park last weekend where Tyrone booked their place in the All Ireland final against Mayo. Photo: Sportsfile.

Watching brief: Ciaran McDonald and James Horan were keeping an eye on the proceedings in Croke Park last weekend where Tyrone booked their place in the All Ireland final against Mayo. Photo: Sportsfile.

Less than three weeks ago you could barely get even money on a Dublin and Kerry All-Ireland final. Both were unbackable favourites to win their respective semi finals against Mayo and Tyrone.

Fast forward those 21 days and we have a final for the underdogs, a final between two teams that ground out wins in extra time against all the odds.

Don't for one second let anyone, anywhere in the country tell me they fancied a Mayo and Tyrone All Ireland final. I'm not buying it - not for a minute.

One semi final shock was unlikely, two virtually impossible, or so we thought. As Mayo were two weeks previous, Tyrone were full value for their win against a somewhat complacent Kerry in a nail-biting circumstances in a game that literally went to the wire.

As a more than interested neutral of course, watching from a Mayo perspective, I don't think even as a neutral, I would have been able to handle penalties in a game of such importance if it had gone to that. I was somewhat relieved that Tommy Walsh's last-ditch effort went wide at the near post, much to the dismay and agony of the Kerry faithful and another Sam-less season for the Kingdom.

Plenty to pick over after that

This semi final had talking points aplenty. I fully expected Kerry to win and win comfortably based on very simple reasoning: (1 ) The hiding they had given Tyrone in the league in June scoring 6-16 in the process, how could Tyrone close that gulf in class? (2 ) The fact star forward David Clifford hadn't been playing well and I felt this was the game to ignite him, which it did, until he had to go off injured right at the end of normal time; and lastly and by no means least (3 ) How could Tyrone cope with an athletic fully fit Kerry team on the unforgivable Croke park turf after a large number of their players were recovering from Covid-19? There seems to be a bit of ill feeling that Tyrone in fact played the nation into convincing them they had a major outbreak of the virus within their camp and that really, they were just buying time to let players recover from injuries. It was plainly obvious from watching the game that Tyrone were absolutely flying going down the stretch and it was in fact Kerry who gasped for air at the end. It was meant to be the other way around. If you speak to anyone from Tyrone, they'll tell you their case was legitimate; it you speak to anyone from outside the red hand county, they seem to think Tyrone hoodwinked us all.

The use of substitutes for the duration of the contest is a very interesting one. Kerry players were dropping like flies both in normal time and extra time, leaving them with no choice but to empty their bench, making nine substitutes during that time. Compare this to Tyrone, who only made six substitutes for the entirety of the game, three of which were made so late on in extra time, the substitutes didn't even merit a rating.

Tyrone were very ruthless for the duration and tackled like their life depended on it. They closed out the game in a manner like the Tyrone that won them their maiden All-Ireland in 2003, grappling with players late on to prevent them getting near the Tyrone goal.

A lot of the Kerry players simply didn't have the stomach for the fight and found themselves running down blind alleys on numerous occasions, turning over possession constantly.

It's about what you do when you have the ball

If you look at the kick-out stats alone, you would wonder why Kerry didn't win this game. They retained all of their own kick-outs, 25 in total, while taking 7 out of 14 long Niall Morgan kick-outs. Put simply, they retained the bulk of Primary possession from kick-outs but didn't make it count, running into traffic and turning over the ball far too many times.

Tyrone scored 2-09 from such turnovers, a very telling factor. No doubt James Horan and his management team will have watched this contest closely, looking at how Tyrone went about their business.

Tyrone's game management was critical to their victory, despite two players receiving black cards and having to play with 14 men for a 20 minute period - during the second half Kerry failed to capitalise.

While those two players were off the field, two Tyrone players went down with injuries for as long as they possibly could, eating into the time their team-mates were in the sin bin. It's a rule that irks me no end and one I flagged with a referee assessor last January 12 months.

It's a major loophole in the rule that will encourage players to feign injury. When a player gets a black card, his team will kill the clock by whatever means possible until his return. I'm not suggesting for one second that Peter Harte or Tiernan McCann didn't pick up slight knocks but they certainly milked it to the best of their ability and spent as long as they could recovering.

Mayo will have to be up to speed with the way they do things. It's hard to comprehend the novel pairing in this year's final. Mayo are priced at slight favourites. It's really a 50/50 call. For those of you lucky enough to get tickets, make sure you bring your voice to the final.


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