Tyrone joint-boss Brian Dooher says Kerry will be a “step up” from recent Ulster opponents in Saturday’s Football League Division One semi-final.
Tyrone game sees them travelling south after being confined to Ulster thus far in the condensed league campaign.
“It’s definitely going to be our biggest test,” Dooher told BBC Sport.
The Tyrone joint-manager, who captained the Red Hands to All-Ireland Final triumphs over the Kingdom in 2005 and 2008, was impressed by Kerry’s display as they drew with Dublin three weeks ago and he insists there is far more to this current Kingdom line-up than David Clifford’s remarkable talents.
“They are the barometer out there themselves and Dublin. They showed in the league performance against Dublin a few weeks ago how good they are.
“They are definitely a big step up for us and a good challenge and benchmark for us.”
Results could mean no league finals
The only way a Division One final can take place next weekend is if both Tyrone and Dublin win Saturday’s semi-finals but Dooher says this will not be uppermost in the players’ minds in the heat of battle at Fitzgerald Stadium.
“You would like to see a league final played and a league competition finished. It’s a great competition that we have and it should be respected for that.
“But we’re just glad to be playing football. We’re looking forward to the trip to Killarney.
“The lads are looking to give as good account of themselves as possible. We’ll ask them to give the best that they have and we’ll see where that takes us.”
While Dooher acknowledges Clifford’s star quality, the Red Hands boss ventures that the precocious talent’s brother Paudie has been “the find of the league probably” while he also has the height of respects for forwards such as Tommy Walsh, Killian Spillane and Sean O’Shea, and Paul Geaney as he also namechecks midfielders David Moran and Paul Murphy.
“Where you do start and stop?” says Dooher after rhyming off the long list of Kingdom class.
But Tyrone have attacking talent of their own with Darragh Canavan, Conor McKenna and Paul Donaghy having been added to the Red Hands’ forward resources with Lee Brennan also back in the fold.
Door not closed to McAliskey – Dooher
With Dooher and Feargal Logan also able to call upon Peter Harte, Mattie Donnelly, Darren McCurry, Mark Bradley and Niall Sludden as attacking options, Clonoe man Connor McAliskey opted out of the squad two weeks ago after not getting any game time in the opening league games against Donegal, Armagh and Monaghan.
Dooher says that door is not closed on McAliskey or anybody else – including his club-mates Declan McClure and Danny McNulty who have also quit the panel.
“It’s just disappointing but I respect their decision. They want to get back playing football for their club and that’s a fair enough point.
“We have said from the outset that we’ll not close the door on anybody at any time and we’ll still hold that line.
“If somebody is performing well with their club and they are willing to come back to the set up, we’ll look into anybody at any time.”
Dooher added that Saturday’s contest is probably “a week too soon” for Cathal McShane but he appears to be on course to be available for the Ulster Championship which will begin for the Red Hands at home to holders Cavan on 10 July.
With Michael Murphy set to again miss out for Donegal because of a hamstring injury, Patrick McBrearty’s display could be crucial to their hopes of upsetting Dublin at Kingspan Breffni.
McBrearty’s final-quarter brilliance helped Donegal snatch the draw in Armagh which squeezed them into the semi-final although Saturday’s game will be their final match in this year’s league come what may.
Armagh host Rossies in relegation game
After looking on course for a semi-finals place, Armagh instead have the task of beating Roscommon at the Athletic Grounds on Sunday to maintain their Division One status.
The Orchard men were unable to do that on home turf last autumn although the result didn’t prevent them from securing a return to Division One along with the Rossies.
The other Division One relegation play-off pits Monaghan against a Galway team far from impressed after being required to travel to Clones on Sunday despite the Farney County’s training ban breach in April.
The timing of championship fixtures on the last weekend in June mean that it’s already certain that there will be no Division Two and Division Four finals.
Ulster’s Division Two interest is confined to the bottom of the table as Down host Laois on Saturday evening in what is likely to be a nervy relegation play-off.
After heavy defeats by Mayo and Meath, Down almost threw away eight-point lead midway through the second half against Westmeath two weeks as they were fortunate to hold on for a 0-13 to 1-9 win.
Laois haven’t been going well in this league but are unlikely to be awe of Paddy Tally’s side.
Ulster trio in key Division Three games
Both Division Three semi-finals take place on Saturday with prized promotions spots are up for grabs as Derry face Limerick at Carrick-on-Shannon and Offaly host Fermanagh at Tullamore.
Only victories for the two Ulster sides will see a Division Three Final taking place.
Ulster champions Cavan, meanwhile, must beat Wicklow in Navan on Saturday afternoon to avoid an unthinkable relegation to Division Four.
Mention of Division Four and Antrim must avoid slipping up in Dungarvan against Waterford on Sunday to clinch promotion.
The Saffrons won their three round-robin games against Louth, Sligo and Leitrim by a point but exhibited listless periods of play in all three matches.
The team now managed by Enda McGinley cannot afford any of that on Sunday as they aim to banish the memory of the horror show against Wicklow last October when the concession of 7-11 saw their promotion hopes going up in smoke.
Allianz Football League Semi-Finals/Play-offs
Saturday, 12 June
|Tyrone||v||Kerry||Fitzgerald Stadium, 17:00 BST|
|Donegal||v||Dublin||Kingspan Breffni, 19:15|
|Cork||v||Westmeath||Pairc Ui Chaoimh, 14:00|
|Down||v||Laois||Pairc Esler, 18:15|
|Cavan||v||Wicklow||Pairc Tailteann, 14:00|
|Carlow||v||Louth||Dr Cullen Park, 16:00|
Sunday, 13 June
|Armagh||v||Roscommon||Athletic Grounds, 15:00 BST|
|Clare||v||Mayo||Cusack Park, 13:45|
|Longford||v||Tipperary||Pearse Park, 15:45|