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18 September 2008 Edition

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Matt Treacy







The Kingdom dodging old-time hoodoo

SIMILAR to Kilkenny, if Kerry win their third title in a row on Sunday, they will have established themselves as the best team of the last ten years. Unlike the Cats, however, they have competition and the competition, if successful, will be entitled to make the very same claim.
Since 2000, Kerry have contested six finals and won four of them. Tyrone have reached their third final but, significantly, they won both of the previous finals they were in. And even more significantly, they have beaten Kerry en route to both their victories: in the 2003 semi-final and in the 2005 final.
For the more superstitious of Kerry folk there is the terrible memory of Down, a team Kerry have played four times in the championship, two semi-finals and two finals, and never beaten them. If Tyrone beat them then they will have established a similar, what old-time GAA writers used to call, hoodoo over the Kingdom.
Kerry’s main concern, however, will be less any psychological or paranormal hold that Mickey Harte might have over them and more the manner in which they have struggled at times this year to close out games. Okay, we are really only talking about Cork but on three occasions they were hauled back: once to be beaten comprehensively, once to be taken to a draw when the game looked over, and the third time brought back to level scores only for The Gooch to save the day.
Against Galway, they only really looked vulnerable for a few minutes and kept their composure to run out easy winners. And without a doubt against Cork there were other factors involved, not least the familiarity and the dislike of many of the players on both sides for each other.
So it may not be so much a case of Kerry getting the jitters the closer they come to sealing their place as one of the great sides, and more the usual down and dirty business with the neighbours which has assumed somewhat more importance since they get to meet each other seemingly at least twice a year now.

THERE is also a school of thought in the south-west that welcomes Tyrone as their opponents on the basis that settling the score from 2003 and 2005 would be the most fitting way in which to consummate the three in a row. The 2003 semi-final – the birth of “puke football”, according to Pat Spillane – in particular is regarded by some as a bad memory that needs to be erased from the collective psyche.
Of course, Kerry had the opportunity to do that in the 2005 final but once again Tyrone had the upper hand in a game that was at least better to watch than the earlier encounter. And, for all that Spillane might decry the influence of the modern Ulster style of play, he can hardly deny that the adoption of key elements of it have aided Kerry’s more recent successes.
While everyone expected Kerry to be in the final, those who foresaw a similar journey for Tyrone were in a small minority at the start of the championship. And there were even less believers following their early exit in Ulster at the hands of Down. Despite that, they have sailed efficiently through the qualifiers and could emulate their own achievement of 2005 in winning an All-Ireland without winning their province.
Some had written them off on the basis that they were not the same team, either personnel-wise or in the form of their current players, as they had been in 2005. Without Stephen O’Neill they seemed to lack firepower and there were doubts about some old stalwarts like Brian Dooher and Seán Cavanagh.
All such doubts would appear to have been put well and truly to rest and, indeed, if you compare the two teams that meet on Sunday both are arguably, in modern Gaelic football terms, the wrong side of the statistics in terms of age and miles on the clock. Both, however, have also brought in new blood and in any event the ‘miles on the clock’ factor, if relevant, will be cancelled out, giving neither side any advantage in terms of fitness.
Although, having said that, Tyrone have given the impression that they are coming to a peak of fitness at the right time of the year whereas Kerry have shown worrying signs of fading in the latter stages of all their games against Cork. If it was to come down to a close-fought affair in the last quarter that could indeed be a factor and one that, on the evidence of what we have seen so far, could favour Tyrone.
Kerry, of course, will be intent on not leaving the issue in doubt so late on. Their last two final wins have been facile, something that might not stand to them should it be close, and they certainly have the ability to put a lot of daylight between themselves and the opposition when on form.
That might happen but I have a feeling that it won’t. It promises to be a close, tight game, dour even, but with the potential for the unexpected, especially if the weather intervenes.
There is a lot at stake and neither side will be leaving anything to chance. What with the biblical beards and the mind games, anything could happen. A controversial final mayhaps!

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