Kerry v Tyrone prediction: Why Owen Mulligan is backing the All-Ireland semi-final underdogs

Being a Tyrone legend, Mugsy was always going to back The Red Hands to topple The Kingdom.

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Tyrone held all the aces in the run up to this weekend’s All-Ireland semi-final clash with Kerry. There are a million reasons why the game was always going to be played, and Tyrone played their cards to perfection over the course of a challenging few weeks.

But, back at the start of the season, they really could have done with a McKenna Cup campaign to give the new management an opportunity to instill their ideals and try out new players. This didn’t happen, so their National League campaign was all about Division 1 survival, and they were forced to use the tried and tested approach.

Of course, that backfired spectacularly when they met The Kingdom in the League semi-final. It was an embarrassment to watch. For starters, arriving in your own car is no way to prepare for a league semi-final. The performance of players and management has to have hurt Tyrone and it also catapulted the Kerry bandwagon into full swing.

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But, the fact remains that Kerry hasn’t had a competitive fixture since they played a half-fit Dublin team back in May. Since then, they hammered Tyrone who were like rabbits in headlights, and they only went on to stuff hurling counties on their way to another Munster title.

Meanwhile, COVID ravished my home county and the senior side weren’t immune, with players in hospital for several days, and up to 20 members of the squad suffering symptoms.

Only Saturday will show the full impact that has had on those lads. But, an extra couple of weeks was the only decision or Tyrone would have withdrawn. For the GAA public, and those of us around long enough to recall it, we are revisiting the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship final of 1986 when Kerry, the defending champions, won against first time finalists Tyrone making it their 30th All-Ireland title and their third championship in succession.

Back then, no one gave Tyrone a chance. However, the difference this time around has been their successes in the several battles that ensured, starting with a titanic victory in Parnell Park in 1997 against Kerry minors. It showed we had arrived with no fear and no complex about taking on The Kingdom.

By 2005, the ‘Team of the Decade’ myth was quickly dispelled when both teams were at their prime and went head-to-head. Tyrone won in 2008 before a ball was kicked, simply because Kerry was sure they had us beaten.

We all saw the scenes of Kerry players crying after a Qualifier in Killarney in 2012. That gave me an insight into Paidi O Se’s famous quote about wild animals and the demands of Kerry supporters. But, that was a hollow victory in my view, as Tyrone were a spent force by then.

I never had any gripes with Kerry, unlike some of my teammates. But, I feel some prominent Kerry players hated us, and still do.

Saturday promises to be a goal fest. Both teams have suspect full back lines and if Tyrone are to have any chance they most score at least two goals. So, The Red Hands must win the middle sector to cut supply, dictate the pace of the game and exploit Kerry’s inabilities in defence. Extra two weeks will have helped Cathal McShane, Conor McKenna and Darragh Canavan. All three must help out Darren McCurry, who is currently my Player of the Year.

But, if Monaghan could expose Tyrone with early diagonal balls, The likes of David Clifford and Paul Geaney will have a field day if they provide a similar supply. So, Tyrone must win the middle sector to cut supply, dictate the pace of the game and exploit Kerry’s inabilities in defence.

Tyrone have to think out of the box though. McKenna in midfield or half back to bring the fight to The Kingdom would be interesting, and Niall Morgan holding his nerve and kicking over the forward press could reap rewards.

Kerry’s planning is bound to have been impact, but they will still be super confident and Tyrone have to play on that. They have to fly out of the traps and build an early lead, like Cork, but then up the pressure and ask the difficult questions.

The Tyrone management has some fascinating partnerships. I have been led into battle many times by Brian Dooher, a fearless warrior. Come to think of it, I have also been lead into battle by Feargal Logan, a fearless solicitor!

With both of them at the helm leading the team into Saturday’s dogfight, anything is possible. Take it from a man who knows.

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