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What Kerry And Tyrone Can Learn From Their Previous Contests

What Kerry And Tyrone Can Learn From Their Previous Contests

It was supposed to be a celebration. A special edition of The Late Late Show to mark the 125th anniversary of the GAA. There was a guest appearance from former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, music from the Artane Band, and interviews with a host of GAA stars past and present.

For Darragh Ó Sé, it was sheer torture.

The date was January 2009. For the third time that decade, The Kerry stalwart had fallen short the previous September versus against Tyrone. One more uppercut from an elusive sparring partner that always seemed to be beyond arm's reach.

Ó Sé endured a rare dry spell that campaign. No Munster title, no All-Ireland, no All-Star. Not that it should matter. That night in Donnybrook was not supposed to be about him.

An array of household names gathered together including Jimmy Barry-Murphy, Henry Shefflin, Mick O'Dwyer, Seán Óg Ó hAilpín and Jamesie O'Connor.

The An Ghaeltacht native found himself seated beside Brian Dooher and Peter Canavan. Mickey Harte was positioned just in front. Surrounded and behind enemy lines, with Pat Kenny primed to deliver the deepest cut.

The presenter strolled up the carpeted steps and started to chat. "How are you? It wasn't Kerry's year?"

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Then he picked up a book and waved a picture in the Kerryman's face. It was of Dooher, lifting Sam Maguire on the steps of the Hogan Stand.

"If you want to win next year, I just want to inspire you. How do you feel when you look at something like that?"

Mortifying for all concerned and a regrettable way of honouring a historic rivalry.  The clashes in Croke Park were legendary and substantial. Those two men epitomised two teams that changed Gaelic football. The game is still coming to terms with the consequences.

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2003 was the origin. That semi-final defeat sickened the Kingdom, losing out to a style of play they barely recognised. Two years later, it was totally different. This time they went toe-to-toe. Box office main event rather than pub room brawl. Still, they lost.

Brick by brick, Mickey Harte built an empire from the ground up. After establishing a solid defensive base, he extended it up the field. 15 defenders without the ball, 15 attackers with it.

The positional grip was demolished. Dooher was the destroyer. He wore number 10 but operated at the centre of the whirlpool. Trademarking the runs from deep and swarm tackles that are now commonplace.

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"Losing to Tyrone is worse than losing to almost anyone else," wrote manager Jack O'Connor in his autobiography. As much as it was a blow, it was also a message. One image stood out from that 2005 game.

"Brian Dooher of Tyrone, who is at least two stone lighter and a foot shorter than Darragh, gets his body in the way and stops him. He just stops Darragh in his tracks," recalls O'Connor as he watched the seminal moment over and over again.

"Toughness will be the mantra for next season. We'll break tackles and we'll tackle hard. We'll tackle the way that little Brian Dooher tackles Darragh Ó Sé every time I look at the screen.

First though, I have to go away and I have to actually learn how to coach the tackle. Genuinely I don't know how to do that. Tackling is something that we never hear of in Kerry, beyond telling a fella to go out there and not foul the man.

I'm from south Kerry, where maybe the purest football in the country is played. Tackling is like heckling a tenor during his solo. We like to see the skills of the game on display.

That was the point. The days of catch and kick were at an end. Everyone had to evolve.

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To claim Tyrone were purely more dogged than their opposition would do them a grave injustice. Darragh Ó Sé knew this well, having been bypassed by Dooher for one of the greatest points ever scored in an All-Ireland final.

Heart, drive, determination, athleticism and artistry all in one. A magnificent score made better by what happened in the lead-up to it. Almost two minutes of nonstop action. A full-length Declan O'Sullivan block denied Sean Cavanagh at one end, Pascal McConnell stormed off his line to deny Tommy Walsh at the other.

Both teams were scrambling, the hits were unrelenting. It is amidst this sea of chaos that Dooher emerged. The flying captain collected the ball inside his own half and stormed forward, before unleashing an angled shot with the outside of the right to bring the sides level.

In his Irish Times column of 2010, the retired Ó Sé spoke of his admiration for Tyrone's efficiency. Their ability to extract the maximum from every single facet and opportunity.

"Dooher justifies that approach. He wants nothing handy. He goes for everything hard. He’s a nightmare to play against, getting around, winning ball he shouldn’t win, taking tackles, dispossessing fellas.

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"They have certain guys within the game plan who for want of a better word are mavericks. They are let away to do their own thing. Seán Cavanagh is one. Dooher another.

"That’s what makes winners though. The difference. The desire."

It is fitting that Dooher took the mantle alongside Feargal Logan when Harte did move on. The team were at a crossroads. Close to summit without the necessary faculty to mount it. Another evolution was needed.

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Also on the field for that final in 2008 was Tommy Griffin. The Dingle clubman was sprung from the bench after 50 minutes in place of Seamus Scanlon.

Having lined out in the full-back line for the previous two games, Griffin was introduced to try to gain supremacy in the middle third warzone. Charged up and frustrated at not starting, he roared onto the field and close-lined Joe McMahon seconds after his introduction.

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The closed-fist high challenge resulted in a yellow card. A defter punch never arrived and the midfield battle swung Tyrone's way. With six minutes left, Sean Cavanagh kicked them into a one-point lead. Kerry lost five of their next six kick-outs. It ended in a four-point loss.

 

Griffin has spoken previously of what they learned from Tyrone and how it helped them. By 2012, those tough teachings were evident as Kerry cruised to a ten-point qualifier win thanks to a well-manned defence married with a hard-hitting attack.

Now he a tactical intellect charged with sculpting the Kerry defence. This is a role perfect for his skill set.

As a player, Griffin won five All-Irelands under three managers. The ultimate tutelege. He won minor All-Irelands as a coach was always likely to follow Peter Keane to the senior ranks.

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The last decade saw Kerry reclaim some sort of pride with that qualifier victory over the Red Hand as well as two semi-final successes in 2015 and 2019. Nevertheless, in many ways, next week the challenge remains the same. Lohan and Dooher have had to strip back and rebuild, incorporating a more progressive attacking structure while occasionally utilising their past defensive form for scaffolding as they carry out this reconstruction.

The modern game is not detached from the past. Contemporary coaching buzzwords like protecting the square, one-plus and transition are often derided and ridiculed, yet that is precisely what Tyrone did throughout the noughties.

Is there a better example of an efficient and effective transition than Dooher's point in 2008? Theories have been improved and perfected but little is truly new.

Kerry still have a glute of attackers. Griffin and Keane are working to develop a cohesive and ravenous defensive unit that can complement them. Back to the future, both sides need to invoke elements from the past to advance.

Dooher's work rate and value on both sides of the ball is something Tyrone can take inspiration from. Kerry's inability to strike a balance is a lesson the county should still pay heed to.

Much has changed. More is the same.

 

SEE ALSO: Will Mayo's Dublin Victory Mean Anything If They Don't Win The All-Ireland?

Kerry Tyrone

Maurice Brosnan

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