Jürgen Klopp once labelled his Liverpool team “Mentality Monsters”. On the evidence of what we witnessed in Croke Park on Saturday evening, the exact same could be said of Tyrone.
They took the mother of all beatings against Kerry just 10 weeks ago in a National League match, and in the build-up to this game, Kerry looked to be the form team in the country, but no team can flip a result or the form book on its head quite like Tyrone.
Being honest, a week before the game, I fancied Kerry to win by at least five points. I thought their attack was really living up to their promise and showing what they are capable of. They were playing with a swagger previous Kerry teams would have boasted. The closer it got to the game, the tighter I believed it was going to be but, all day long I still expected Kerry to win and to reach the All-Ireland final.
Up stepped GAA’s “Mentality Monsters”. They were exceptional from minute one and really took the game to the Kingdom. They coped with Kerry’s pace and the hunger and desire they showed helped them put in a performance that reminded me somewhat of the 2003 semi-final between the sides.
In the modern day, you simply have to avoid going into contact with the ball. To think you can go into it with a swarm of Tyrone players around you is just complete stupidity. Some will be critical of Peter Keane and his backroom team, particularly within the Kingdom, but I have no doubt they prepared themselves for an onslaught from Tyrone.
The big difference, though, in preparing yourself in training sessions for this, is that it never really replicates what actually happens in the white heat of Championship football. When Tyrone get to Croke Park, they are a different animal. You need to experience the intensity first hand in the GAA’s Coliseum, to fully understand and try to implement a plan to beat them.
Very few Kerry players would have faced Tyrone with this siege mentality. I played against them in some classic games throughout my career, but the Croke Park clashes were always the ones that stood out. There was such a level of hatred from one team to the other at the time that it would almost remind you of an Old Firm derby match.
There was only ever a kick of a ball between both sides back then, but it never really boiled down to which team had the more talented footballers. It was generally down to having a mental toughness that was going to be tested to the fullest when the game was in the melting pot.
My focus in the build-up to these games was always to ensure I was in a strong place mentally and that I would be ready and prepared for whatever came at me. I’d say most of my team-mates prepared themselves the same way. Once you are able to overcome that aspect of an occasion like this, the football looked after itself.
Kerry thought they had their homework done and even though the end result only had one point in it, that is all you ever need to win a match. Niall Morgan scored a free kick just before half time from the halfway line. That is simply ridiculous and quite possibly one of the greatest free-kicks ever scored in Croke Park. Peter Harte’s block on Killian Spillane brought back a certain memory for me all of 18 years ago. Match winning moments like that gradually grind down an opponent and they start to doubt themselves.
Even when Kerry went into the lead late in the second half, Tyrone never stopped. They had total belief in what they were about at all times. A change of management and a change of direction on their style of football has carried a lot of weight for Tyrone so far this year but the question is: will it get them across the line in the final?
On the back of beating Dublin, you have to expect Mayo to be in a very good place and, like Kerry, Mayo have beaten Tyrone regularly over the last number of years in league football. Saturday week will be different gravy, though. The question is, can they get across the line against the “Mentality Monsters”?