There’s always room for some self-congratulation, isn’t there?

Last week’s column, looking ahead to the All-Ireland senior football semi-final between Kerry and Tyrone ended thusly:

“Sport can be funny, though: while we’re not suggesting that Tyrone planned this as part of some dastardly scheme, events like this can galvanise a team and inspire performances beyond the level anybody could have expected.

“Logically, everything points to a Kerry win in Croke Park on Sunday and another potentially epic clash against Mayo to pick up where 2014 and 2017 left off – but you just never know.”

Even with those words, I – and most of the country – was of the view that Kerry would prevail. The spectre of a semi-final walkover would have been avoided, the Kingdom would have had a game under their belts to wash out the aftertaste of July’s stroll against Cork and a tantalising final against Mayo would have awaited.

Converting chances

Instead, Tyrone stayed with Kerry and took their goal chances while Peter Keane’s side couldn’t convert theirs. In extra time, spurred on by the influence of super-sub Cathal McShane, the Red Hands looked the stronger side and, when Tommy Walsh pulled a late equalising opportunity wide, they were back in the final.

Given all of the hub-bub around the Tyrone Covid-19 situation – so serious that they would have forfeited the game if it hadn’t been postponed – it was only natural that their joint-managers Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher would field a few questions on the topic in the post-match press conference.

When the topic was raised, Dooher got spiky.

“We made a decision based on medical advice relevant to what happened and where we were,” he said.

“The medical advice was that we weren’t fit to field. We were told that. So I have a duty of care to those players next door to me. People mightn’t think that but was I going to put them out and something happened?

“I said no I’m not, I’d take the hit. And we were getting it from the players for doing that. They weren’t happy I pulled their championship on them.

“I don’t want to get into this here now. But there’s been a kind of a slant here that we’ve tried to pull a fast one here. It was a factual thing based on the evidence. I don’t want to get into this here, but if that’s the way this is going – which it seems to be listening to it – I’m in the wrong place.”

Normally, it’s losing managers who end conferences early (or ‘storm out’, as everybody seems contractually bound to say) but, in any case, Dooher had said enough. In any case, the bottom line for them was that they had reached the decider.

Back in June, commentators waxed lyrical as Kerry waltzed in six goals against Tyrone in the league in Killarney, but this was a different affair.

Kerry crossroads

Peter Keane’s three years in charge of the Kingdom have brought two Allianz Football League titles and two Munster championships, but on The Sunday Game, Tomás Ó Sé was brutally honest in saying that such success counted for little in Kerry without ‘the canister’ of Sam Maguire being claimed.

It was taken as a fait accompli in some quarters that, if and when Dublin’s reign ended, Kerry would be there to take on the mantle of champions, but events have dictated otherwise. Having missed a good opportunity in the drawn 2019 All-Ireland final against Dublin, their last championship game in three consecutive years – the 2019 replay, last year against Cork and now Saturday – has seen them beaten without scoring a goal.

It’s now seven years since Kerry’s last All-Ireland win and, while the 1986-97 drought isn’t in danger of being matched yet, they won’t want the current run to last for much longer.

Normalising big days in Croke Park

Late last week, I saw a television promo for the coming weekend’s Gaelic games action.

Obviously, the Tyrone-Kerry game was the centre-piece of the Saturday coverage (the All-Ireland minor final between Meath and Tyrone was on TG4) while Sunday was given over to the camogie semi-finals, Galway taking on Tipperary and Cork up against reigning champions Kilkenny.

Having been away for a few days in the wake of a busy period leading up to the All-Ireland hurling final, I hadn’t been following sports news as slavishly as usual and so was unaware as to where the camogie double-header was being held.

Therefore, it was a pleasant surprise to check the Camogie Association’s website and see that the semis were fixed for Croke Park – but without much fanfare attached and instead taken as read. You can argue that it has taken far too long for such a situation to be normalised, but this is clear progress, at least.

The final on 12 September will be a first Cork-Galway meeting in the decider since 2015, though that pair, Kilkenny and Wexford comprise the only side to make final appearances since 2006. Widening the spread of top counties who can compete at the top level is just as vital in growing the game as ensuring the regularity of big days in Croke Park, but such development takes time. CL

There could be a tendency for comment around the Paralympics to sound condescending, but the way that swimmer Ellen Keane (pictured) and sprinter Jason Smyth have become household names shows that they are considered to be what they truly are – the top practitioners in their respective sports.

Both have claimed gold in Tokyo, while Katie George Dunlevy and Eve McCrystal’s silver medals represented Ireland’s first in para cycling, with 19-year-old swimmer Nicole Turner also winning silver. Congratulations to them and to RTÉ, whose coverage is doubled compared to Rio five years ago.