HomeFootballKerry never better set to deliver overdue U-20 All-Ireland title against Tyrone

Kerry never better set to deliver overdue U-20 All-Ireland title against Tyrone

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The Red Hand are the irresistible force and the Kingdom are the immovable object. Something has to give this Sunday

In one sense, this could well be defined as a clash between an irresistible force and an immovable object. The Red Hand county have what is considered to be the best attacking combination in the country, while the Kingdom’s defence has been extremely eye-catching all season.

Tyrone have played seven games in their passage to Sunday’s final, beginning with an eight-goal annihilation, 8-16 to 0-7, of Antrim. Following that, however, they were involved in a couple of tight battles – drawing with Down, 0-11 to 1-8, and edging out Derry, 0-13 to 1-9.

Next up were back-to-back outings against Monaghan, which produced vastly different results. In the last game of the group stages, Tyrone cruised to victory, 5-20 to 0-8, but the Ulster semi-final was a different kettle of fish, the winners sneaking through by the minimum, 2-9 to 0-14.

The provincial final was an absolute cracker in a re-match with the Oak Leaf county, with Tyrone and Derry unable to be separated after extra-time, 3-10 to 2-13. In the shoot-out, the excellence of Red Hand goalkeeper Conor McAneney came to the fore in a 3-1 victory on penalties.

Goals were again the order of the day for Paul Devlin’s charges in last weekend’s All-Ireland semi-final (bringing their green flag tally to 13 in their last four outings), as Eoin McElholm, Conor O’Neill and Shea O’Hare all hit the target in an eventual ten-point win over Connacht champions, Roscommon, 3-18 to 3-8.

Backboned by players from the last two Hogan Cup-winning Omagh CBS schools, this is a hugely-talented Tyrone side, who play an exciting brand of attacking football. Since the competition began, they have been tipped up as likely champions, and that remains the case heading into the weekend.

Kerry, for their part, have possibly exceeded expectations within the Kingdom by making it this far, which is to the ultimate credit of manager Tomás Ó Sé and this young squad of players. From the opening performance in Quilty against Clare, they have steadily been getting stronger and stronger.

Two victories over a highly-rated Cork side, especially the six-point Munster final success, 1-15 to 0-12, has raised the self-belief within the group. Those never-say-die qualities certainly came to the fore against Meath in Saturday’s All-Ireland semi-final, Kerry edging over the line, 0-12 to 0-11.

Conceding an average of just ten points per game, the Kerry defence has been exceptional. Sweating over the fitness of regular full-back Dara O’Callaghan, it’s imperative that the likes of Cian and Maidhcí Lynch, Darragh O’Connor and Gearóid Evans continue their excellent form.

Charlie Keating is an imposing physical specimen at wing-back, while captain Rob Stack and the indomitable Eddie Healy have been gelling superbly around the middle. Up front, Luke Crowley and Cormac Dillon are the main trump cards, with solid support from Tomás Kennedy and Daniel Kirby.

McElholm, Ruairi McCullagh and Callum Daly are serious operators in the Tyrone attack, O’Neill and Ronan Fox have a strong partnership at centre-field, while O’Hare, Michael Rafferty and Ben Hughes are influential performers at the back.

Tyrone are the bookies’ favourites for Sunday, and rightly so. They will arrive in Portlaoise expecting to triumph, adding to the All-Ireland they won at this grade just two seasons ago, in a team where Ruairi Canavan was an undoubted superstar.

However, the closer it gets to the big occasion, the stronger the feeling that this particular Kerry side just will not countenance defeat. If the backs can do what they did against Meath, they will stay in the game throughout.

Then the wild-card exuberance of Crowley might just properly explode to the ultimate effect.

Verdict: Kerry

ALL-IRELAND UNDER-20 FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL

Kerry v Meath

Sunday, May 19

O’Moore Park, Portlaoise 1pm (live TG4)

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