Thursday, September 22, 2005

Fasten Your Seatbelts, Its the All-Ireland Final Preview!

It feels a bit like the past five months have been a prelude to this Sunday; well, you could say the past twenty five months have been.

That's how long it is since Kerry lost a championship match, but more pertinently, that is how long it has been since they played one of Ulster's big two in the championship. The defeat to Tyrone in the 2003 All-Ireland semi-final was Kerry football's nadir, the point where even they had to question the very fundamentals of how they played their football and how they approached it; as Eoin Brosnan said this week "we went into that game thinking that Kerry football, free-flowing football, might win us the game. We were possibly a bit little naive and our game plan was destroyed and thrown out the door".

2003 turned out to be Year Zero for the new Kerry, as envisioned and realised by Jack O'Connor who took the reigns as manager following that defeat and led the Kingdom back to the pinnacle with aplomb last year. They have, in fact, strolled through their championship matches since 2003, not to detract anything from the awesome splendour of their hammering of Mayo in last year's final.

But the sense that the ensuing twenty-five months, as flawless as they have been, have spared Kerry the real test, namely that from either of their tormentors of 2002 and 2003, lingers.

Tyrone meanwhile have been asked and answered the toughest questions so many times that to doubt anything about their character and will would be pure folly. The death of Cormac McAnallen, of course, looms over all their trials since 2003, but when you consider the way in which they have slogged through this most testing of seasons, it is possible to believe there is some supernatural forcing driving the O'Neill men along. The replayed quarter final with Dublin was testing enough, as Tyrone faced down the enthusiastic blue hordes in their own back yard, sending them away, in the end, with a whimper.

But the gruelling trilogy with Armagh forced Tyrone to stare deepest into their souls. They must have felt robbed after the controversial replayed Ulster Final, when the Anglo-Celt was snatched from them due, in substantial part, to referee Michael Collins' error in ordering off Stephen O'Neill.

Tyrone's self-belief never wavered, however, and their awareness of the fact that they had been the better side in the previous clashes with Armagh served them well, even as they trailed in the dying minutes of the semi. Self-belief can never have been a problem for Peter Canavan, and as he nonchalantly stroked Tyrone to victory with an injury time free, deserved revenge was

On Sunday, barring a draw, one of these sides will ascend to the pantheon of great teams, nosing in front of their two competitors (lest we forget Armagh) in this current, most keenly contested rivalry.

Its all been building up to this....

Tomorrow: the five questions that will decide this year's All-Ireland Senior Football Champions


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10:42 a.m.  

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