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COVID debacle has brought the Kerry-Tyrone rivalry to the boil

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by Adam Moynihan

All-Ireland SFC Semi-Final

Kerry v Tyrone

Saturday at 3.30pm

Croke Park

(Live on RTÉ from 2.30pm)

Heated. Tetchy. Uncompromising. Kerry and Tyrone matches are often ill-tempered and almost invariably well-contested. In simple terms, the teams just don’t like each other very much. And there's no way the events that have unfolded off the pitch in recent weeks have done anything to ease that tension.

Ever since Tyrone’s golden era of the noughties, a period during which they consistently had Kerry’s number, there has been an uneasy relationship between the two counties. Stationed at either end of the island and with massively distinct footballing pedigrees (Tyrone’s first All-Ireland came in 2003; Kerry already had 32 by that stage), it is an unlikely rivalry that has now spanned three decades.

The pendulum swung back in The Kingdom’s favour during the last 10 years, and on paper they have the star quality to maintain the upper hand well into the twenties, so the enmity is perhaps not as apparent as it used to be.

But Tyrone’s handling of their recent COVID outbreak has reignited the hob, and the disdain each county still has for the other is now brimming at the edge of the pot.

DELAY

In general terms, the GAA’s decision to push the game back an extra week in line with Tyrone’s wishes was greeted with a shrug by the locals here in Kerry. “Grand.” As county chair Tim Murphy had outlined, there was an “over-arching wish” to play the semi-final anyway, as opposed to simply taking a walkover.

Delve a little deeper, though, and it’s clear that not all is rosy in the garden.

“We find ourselves in a very difficult situation not of our making,” Murphy said (after outlining the board’s, and the team’s, desire to play). “We have explicitly followed all COVID protocols and we have taken every precaution to protect our players and management.”

If that reads like a dig at the opposition, it’s because it more than likely is. There is suspicion (unproven, it must be said) in GAA circles that Tyrone did not handle their initial outbreak as efficiently as they might have. If that is the case, Tyrone’s sympathy card loses considerable value.

The revelation that some of their players opted out of taking the vaccine for fear that the side effects could rule them out of action devalues that card further still.

It is also understood that Tyrone made no attempts to forewarn Kerry of their plans to pull out of the fixture before dropping that bombshell on the Saturday before last, despite the fact that the two counties had been liaising over the issue. That is bound to have irked the Kerry delegation.

And, as content as Kerry are to see the fixture being fulfilled, there is an unshakable feeling around these parts that Tyrone have played the GAA like a fiddle.

Joint manager Feargal Logan said during the week that all of his players are now available for selection. "There was a good period there where we didn't have everybody on the training field at the same time but we have got to that point now, which is helpful and positive, and where everybody is physically present and they are out of isolation," he told the Irish Independent. "We’ve got everybody together."

One the one hand, it’s good to hear that the players who were sick have recovered. On the other, isn’t that awfully convenient for Tyrone that all of their players are now available to them? Having a fully fit team is not always a luxury that semi-finalists have. If literally all their players are fine to play tomorrow, how many were fine to play six days ago?

Meanwhile, Kerry have been hanging around five weeks for a game. Mayo will have three weeks before their All-Ireland final. The club seasons in the participating counties have been thrown into disarray. It seems like everybody is losing here. Except, of course, for Tyrone.

It's not too difficult to imagine how the players in that Kerry dressing room on Saturday afternoon will be feeling about their opponents down the hall. And Peter Keane will surely tap into that. The team talk writes itself. “When this game is over, they’ll wish they gave us the walkover."

MEETINGS

As alluded to previously, Kerry have been on top in the most recent championship meetings between the sides: the 2012 qualifier in Killarney and the semi-finals of 2015 and 2019. The Kingdom trailed by four points at half-time two years ago and it took a much-improved second-half performance, featuring a goal by Stephen O’Brien, to eventually prevail with three points to spare. The margin of victory was not wide in the end, but the better team won.

Earlier this summer, the teams met in the Fitzgerald Stadium in the semi-final of the National League and Kerry racked up a huge score (6-15) en route to a 16-point win. This rout famously prompted Peter Keane to say that if you took the goals out of the match, there wasn’t much between the teams. He doubled down on that assessment at a recent press briefing.

“I don’t think it was reflective of the day,” Keane told journalists. “I think I said that afterwards. You (the media) were mocking me and laughing when I said that if you took the goals out of it, I wouldn’t have felt there was a whole pile between us. Tyrone got 1-14 - 15 scores - against us on the day. They’re a very capable team. We were down 0-3 to 0-1 in that game and the next thing we got a goal and then Gavin White got a goal in over the top...

“So we’re not reading too much into that game down in Killarney and I don’t think anyone else should either. That’s not me just brushing it off. A game can run away from you very quickly and it’s very hard to put a game right when you’re trailing that early.”

Keane is notorious for attempting to play down victories but, in truth, there is no covering up what happened that day. Kerry were simply too hot to handle, particularly in the forward division where Paul Geaney, Seán O’Shea, Paudie Clifford and David Clifford were rampant.

That being said, the championship is a different beast altogether, so perhaps he is right to divert attention from the league result.

DARA MOYNIHAN

Tyrone have a full deck and in Darren McCurry, Cathal McShane, Conor McKenna and Mattie Donnelly, they undoubtedly have players who can hurt the Munster champions. If they go at Kerry, like Cork did in the first 10 minutes in the Munster final, they could well punch holes and work scores.

But Kerry have a full deck too. Diarmuid O’Connor and Dara Moynihan are apparently both available after recovering from injuries and both will start if that is the case. Moynihan, in particular, had a sensational league campaign and he will play a crucial role if Kerry are to reach the Promised Land. The energy and skill he brings to the team on both sides of the ball is pivotal.

The Spa player's inclusion is likely to come at the expense of either Jack Barry or Stephen O’Brien, with Micheál Burns being another candidate for the half forward line. Killian Spillane and Tony Brosnan will be hoping to force their way into the starting line-up but Keane has consistently posted David Clifford and Seán O’Shea in the full forward line so far this year. One would imagine that he will be loathe to change that tactic now.

Tommy Walsh has played approximately 23 minutes per match off the bench this season so we can expect him to get similar game-time on Saturday. The Rahilly's veteran was a game-changer for Kerry when introduced in the 50th minute of that 2019 semi-final.

David Moran has improved in recent matches and, barring a major shock, he will partner O’Connor i lár na páirce.

Captain Paul Murphy returned to the starting 15 for the Munster final after seemingly falling out of favour for a few weeks and he should keep his place somewhere along the half back line. In-form wing backs Mike Breen and Gavin White are also likely start, as are the newly established full back unit of Brian Ó Beaglaioch, Jason Foley and Tom O’Sullivan.

Shane Ryan has been Keane’s No. 1 from Day 1 and the Rathmore man will continue between the posts this weekend.

The team will be named tonight (Friday) at 8pm.

PREDICTION

All the controversy of the past number of weeks has teed this match up nicely and the tension is sure to spill over to some degree, both on the pitch and amongst the 24,000 supporters in attendance.

Tyrone always bring intensity and it could well be a competitive game.

However, if you look at the match-up purely from a footballing perspective, Kerry should have too much about them, particularly if Moynihan is fit.

Verdict: Kerry by eight.

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Ladies’ Semi-Final Preview: Armagh stand between Kerry and a third shot at glory

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LGFA All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final

Kerry v Armagh

Saturday 7.15pm

O’Connor Park, Tullamore

Live on TG4

The Kerry ladies are just 60 minutes away from their third All-Ireland final in a row but they will have to bring their ‘A’ game to overcome the challenge of Armagh at O’Connor Park in Offaly later today.

The Kingdom have been installed as competition favourites after beating Meath (and after champions Dublin lost to Galway) in the quarters and they should be in confident form following that victory over the Royals in Tralee a fortnight ago.

However, they are unlikely to have it all their own way against an Armagh side who have beaten them twice already this season, in the league in March and then in the league final in Croke Park in April.

Losing star player Aimee Mackin to an ACL injury in the Ulster final came as a tremendous blow to the Orchard County. Mackin scored 2-6 (2-5 from play) and 1-4 (1-2) from play in the two games against Kerry this year so her teammates will have to make up the difference in her absence.

Kerry, meanwhile, have been buoyed by the return from an ACL injury of Síofra O’Shea, who scored 0-3 off the bench against Meath. The skilful trio of Danielle O’Leary (1-28, 3f), Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh (2-15, 9f) and Emma Dineen (4-5) have accounted for the bulk of the team’s scores this season with Hannah O’Donoghue and team captain Niamh Carmody also capable of finding the target.

Managers Declan Quill and Darragh Long will be hoping that this attacking threat coupled with the teak tough defending of Eilís Lynch, Deirdre Kearney and Aishling O’Connell will be enough to see them over the line. With the dependable Ciara Butler between the sticks, Kerry have kept three clean sheets in their last four games which is a record they would love to improve upon today.

Armagh, who haven’t played in a senior ladies’ football All-Ireland final since 2006, arrive at the semi-final stage on the back of wins over Meath and Mayo. Eve Lavery is their top scorer to date with 0-11 (7f) to her name. Blaithin Mackin, younger sister of Aimee, has chipped in with 1-5.

Kerry v Armagh will be preceded at O’Connor Park by the other All-Ireland semi-final between Galway and Cork. The Rebels last made the final in 2020 while The Tribeswomen are aiming to reach their first decider since 2019. Both counties lost to Dublin in those respective finals.

Galway v Cork starts at 5pm. Both matches will be shown live on TG4.

Kerry team to play Armagh: C Butler; E Lynch, K Cronin, C Murphy; A O’Connell, D Kearney, A Dillane; M O’Connell, A Galvin; N Carmody (captain), D O’Leary, N Ní Chonchúir; H O’Donoghue, E Dineen, L Ní Mhuircheartaigh.

Armagh: A Carr; G Ferguson, C McCambridge (captain), R Mulligan; C Towe, L McConville, D Coleman; N Coleman, C O’Hanlon; E Druse, A McCoy, B Mackin; E Lavery, N Henderson, K Mallon.

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Jordan Lee vows to bounce back as injury ends 2024 Paralympic dream

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Killarney high jumper Jordan Lee is determined to bounce back stronger than ever after announcing his withdrawal from the Paralympic Selection Process due to injury.

The Killarney Valley AC athlete, who represented Ireland at the Tokyo Games in 2021, was hoping to wear the green singlet again in Paris in August/September but he was forced to pull out “due to an injury that had developed over the past couple of weeks”.

“[To say that I’m] absolutely gutted is an understatement considering the season that we’ve just had and being ranked number 6 in the world rankings on the lead-up,” Lee said via Instagram.

“This is sport at the highest level and unfortunately this is an injury that couldn’t turn right in time for Paris which is only a few weeks away.”

The local lad went on to thank Killarney Valley and his coaches Tomás Griffin, Alan Delaney and Shane O’Rourke for their support, as well as his sponsors PTSB, Puma, Toyota, Kellihers Garage and Output Sports.

“To my family and my friends, I’ve always repped that Irish vest with the utmost pride, not just representing myself and my beautiful country, but my amazing family and friends that I have too. I love ye all.

“Wishing my teammates within Paralympics Ireland all the very best in Paris.

“Roll on 2025 for the Europeans. I’ll be back better and ready for vengeance. Believe that.”

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