Owen Mulligan: Kerry don’t have the men to mark Donnelly, Harte and McShane

Bring on the Kingdom!


I was glad to see Mickey Harte making all those changes before the Dublin game. Sitting on the bench all year can’t be easy for lads. You become stale waiting for your chance to impress.

The game was a damp squib, even the crowd sensed it. There were no big hits and very few talking points – other than Diarmuid Connolly’s return – it was played more like a friendly than a Championship game.

It’s worked well for Tyrone though, as several players stepped up to the plate and it also give Pádraig Hampsey some valuable game time under his belt after an injury-hit season.

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It was important to rest the senior players also. Fresh bodies and minds will be key against The Kingdom.

With the team that Dublin put out, it was still a massive ask for Tyrone to beat them. The side was young and inexperienced, but still gave a good account of themselves.

Dublin’s supposedly second team was laced with All-Stars, serial winners and leaders.

No team goes out to get beat, and if Tyrone had converted the early goal chances the story might have been different. Dublin know how to win ugly though, and that experience showed in the end.

Men who have left Mickey with a tough call to make

There were three players in that match that stuck out for me.

Richard Donnelly took the game by the scruff of the neck and drove at Dublin every time. His running off the shoulder and linking up with forwards was unstoppable in the first half.

Conan Grugan did himself no harm either, he reminded everybody what he can do when given time and space. He was a brilliant youth player, but different styles and tactics from Harte has not suited his game. That’s why he hasn’t forced his way into the starting team.

His vision, fitness and tackling was very noticeable on Saturday evening and you could see he’s pushing the starting 15 all the way. He set up so many scores in the playmaking role and he’ll be an option in Croke Park on Sunday.

Finally, Connor McAliskey was also a stand-out player on Sunday. Okay, he missed a one-on-one goal chance that should be converted at this level. But, that didn’t bother him and he still kept converting over the bar after that. His movement was brilliant and the Dublin defence found it hard to keep on top of him.

McAliskey likes the big day and Harte has a couple of head-scratchers picking the team for Kerry.

Terrible trio can be a nightmare for Kerry

Kerry tightened up a shaky defence after the Munster final against Cork. It was like the Red Sea parting on so many occasions that day.

Cork showed, with direct running off the shoulder straight at the heart of the Kerry defence, that the Kingdom couldn’t handle it.

Mattie Donnelly, Peter Harte and Cathal McShane are key if Tyrone are to win.

Kerry haven’t got the men to handle these lads on their day. McShane is top scorer in the Championship and is a real handful at the edge of the square. The Kerry full-back line is very vulnerable and direct ball in, causes serious panic there. Tyrone need to exploit that in every attack.

Tyrone need to push up and go man-to-man against Kerry. We all know Harte’s men like to filter back when they lose the ball and break at pace.

But, Tyrone can really get at Kerry by being brave and taking the challenge on head first. Aggression levels will be high, so this game will go down to the wire.

The day we were killed in Killarney

I remember when the draw was made in 2012, I was buzzing. Kerry in the Championship in their own back yard, bring it on!

On a personal note, I’d nothing to fear. From Minor, u21 and Senior, I’d never been beaten by Kerry up to that day. I respected them and what they’d achieved, but that went out the window once I crossed the white line.

It was dog-eat-dog out there and Kerry would exploit any sign of weakness.

I remember in the dressing rooms that day, it wasn’t right.

I was 31 and a senior member of the team, but there were new faces, mixed in with the lads that I had battled through the trenches with. Lads were relaxed, laughing, singing and having the craic 30 mins before the game.

It pissed me off, so I stood up and ranted.

The rant was about being judged in a Tyrone jersey, coming down here and sticking together to get the job done. It was easy travelling around the length and breadth of Ireland playing sh**e teams. But, these games are the ones you’re remembered for.

I remember running out and the Kerry fans were baying for Tyrone blood.

It was like the Istanbul derby, hostile as f**k. I had the pleasure of being marked by Aidan O’Mahony that day.

When I saw him coming towards me, I knew that this was going to be a tough one. But, I was still confident of taking him.

A year before that Ulster had played Munster in the Railway Cup final and I had hit six off him that day, four of them from play. I sent him to the shop a couple of times with a few solo dummies before collecting Man of the Match. But, this was different, and a whole new challenge.

O’Mahony held me scoreless. We had a couple of tasty run-ins during the game and on several occasions squared up to each other.

Of course, verbals were regularly swapped too and there was off the ball stuff going on throughout the match. I can hold my hands up and say I got found out that day.  O’Mahony had all the answers.

You can only respect a man that gets the better of you.

When the final whistle blew, we were well beaten and embarrassed to be quite honest. The home crowd were going mental celebrating the victory. The Kerry lads were getting involved too, holding the crest and some of them were crying with joy, which I thought was a bit overdramatic.

I remember walking off and thinking how much it must have meant from Kerry to beat us, and how much they’d been hurt in the past.

To be beaten in Killarney that day killed me, but imagine losing in a semi-final in 2003 and in a final in 2008 at Croke Park. That must really cut deep.

I soon drowned my sorrows when I got off the bus and I refused to go home to Tyrone for five days.

Kerry is the Kingdom for a session!

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