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29 September 2005 Edition

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Tyrone battalions triumph



Watching a match from the upper tier in the Canal is a bit like poring over an anthill. You are far away but you get a great overview of everything that happens. Of course it is easier to maintain such Olympian detachment if your own county is not involved.

Not that it was easy for anyone to remain aloof from Sunday's game. It was the sort of fare that had you on the edge of your seat to the very end. Being high up in the 'Gods' meant having a privileged view of the tactical battle been fought out below. Without a doubt Tyrone won this and the basis for that was twofold. First was the creation of acres of space through the deployment of what at one stage in the first half was a two man attack — with Mulligan in full forward and Canavan out on the 40.

Just when Kerry were adapting to this, Harte moved Canavan and the constant shifting of the forward line clearly caused immense confusion at times amongst the Kerry defenders. Having to continually reorganise themselves meant that they never settled down into the kind of shape that allowed the likes of Séamus Moynihan and Tomás O Sé to smother the Cork threat in the semi-final, and become the launching pad for attacks.

The other noticeable feature of Tyrone's play, although hardly a new one, was their ability to get players behind the ball when Kerry were on the offensive. At one stage before Kirby could even think about passing a ball he had won in centre field, every Tyrone player except Mulligan was back in their own half. It is quite an extraordinary sight when viewed from so high above the field. Like watching a war game as the battalions are deployed in cunning order.

There are those who criticise that aspect of Tyrone's play as negative. It can be when it boils down to dragging and petty fouling and basically camping around the centre of the pitch but in fairness, the worst offenders in this regard are pale imitators of that style. A number of counties tried this in the championship and it led to one or two appalling games in the qualifiers. I watched one in which an entire team other than two of the forwards spent almost the whole game in their own half. Quite effective in stopping the opposition but next to useless in turning that advantage into victory. And awful to watch.

Tyrone don't do that. They play at speed when in possession and act quickly to retrieve it when lost. Then they counter attack with ruthless efficiency. What they also possess is a phenomenal level of fitness that allows them to cover vast amounts of ground. There are many players who can sprint between the 21-yard lines to cover an opponent going forward. There are not many who can do that and then move just as quickly back when the attack breaks down and possession changes hands. Every one of the Tyrone players can do this for over 70 minutes. That is possible at a plateau of stamina that only an elite of in any sport can equal.

There were a couple of instances that stick in my mind as illustrating the difference between Tyrone and Kerry. One was seeing the great Séamus Moynihan caught flat-footed, surrounded by three Tyrone men and no green and gold jersey in easy reach. Séamus uncharacteristically gave the ball away. Like a lion leaving the gazelle to the hyenas.

The other was after Tómas O Sé had scored Kerry's second goal and there was only a point between the teams. They won a free in midfield and Dara O Sé was desperately looking for an option ahead of him. There were none. All of the Kerry forwards had men in red and white stuck to them like limpet mines. They needed men running to make space. Mike Frank was the freshest Kerry man on the field but could barely raise a canter heading over the 40. And that is not to cast an aspersion on Mike Frank's heart and commitment. There are days when the mind pours molten lead into the legs.

The real defining point was Peter Canavan's goal before half time. It was a perfect play. Mulligan received a ball from Philip Jordan back to the goal and only Paul Galvin — the right half forward! — behind him. This was the sort of situation you would have thought Kerry would never be caught in looking at them against Cork and Mayo. The sort of thing you might chalk up on a blackboard and rehearse in the gloom on the training field.

Mulligan must have wondered where Michael McCarthy had gone. Probably Michael McCarthy wondered where Mugsy had got himself to. And if he was okay. As he looked up Mulligan saw the old master bearing down on goal, Tom O'Sullivan trailing in his wake and all the other green and gold jerseys shimmering in the middle distance. For a brief moment he paused as if thinking to himself "That's a strange one now. Who'd have thought?" Then ball dispatched to his right. The great man grabs it and through the gap between the goal post and a flailing Diarmuid Murphy.

Canavan's other great contribution to the victory was an incredible point from the left of the Canal goal from what seemed an impossible angle. That came at a stage where Kerry were only a point down and just after Dara Ó Sé had missed a chance to level the score.

Mind you the very fact that Canavan was there at all must have been disheartening. He'd left at half time, possibly went off to have a few quiet pints away from the din and then strolled back on at the start of the last quarter in place of Enda McGinley.

Rarely has one man defined a team so much as Peter Canavan. He has seen the bad days and the worse days and, in the twilight of his career, the truly great days. I have heard one commentator quoting a line from Macbeth to describe Canavan's curtain call. Perhaps the man himself was thinking more on the lines of the sentiment expressed in Henry the Sixth. "Delays have dangerous ends".

"Ní fheicfimid a leithéid arís."

An Phoblacht Magazine


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