By Paul Brennan
Kerry 2-16 Waterford 1-6
Reigning TG4 Munster champions Kerry got their title defence off to a surprisingly easy start against Waterford that belied their troubled Lidl NFL campaign and managerial problems in the last couple of months.
Goals in either half from Sarah Houlihan and Andrea Murphy capped a confident Kerry performance that puts them back in a TG4 Munster final where they will meet Cork on June 23.
Sarah Houlihan's 24th minute penalty goal separated the teams at half time, 1-4 to 0-4, with the Kingdom taking advantage of some really wayward shooting by the visitors in that opening period.
Houlihan – who accounted for all of Kerry's first half scores – kicked the game's first score in the seventh minute, but Waterford enjoyed the lion's share of the play for much the first 20 minutes, though their accuracy let them down hugely.
Lauren McGregor converted a Deise free in the 11th minute but a succession of wides – eight in the first half – kept Kerry in the contest as they tried to gain a foothold, despite losing ace forward Louise Ni Mhuircheartaigh to a shoulder injury in the first quarter.
Michelle Ryan's forceful shot had to be pushed over the crossbar by Kerry 'keeper Laura Fitzgerald in the 13th minute, but gradually the home side began to work their way into the game, and after a fine move Waterford wing back Megan Dunford had to be alert to block Andrea Murphy's goal-bound shot as Kerry began to gain confidence.
Two more Houlihan points had Kerry in front when the Beaufort player was fouled in the process to working the ball to the Waterford net, and the same player coolly placed her penalty kick beyond Grainne Kenneally to make it 1-3 to 0-2.
As the game opened up Eimear Fennell converted from a free and then from play to bring Waterford back to within two before Houlihan won and converted a free to leave Kerry three up at the break.
Kerry kicked the first three scores of the second half and when Andrea Murphy finished off a great Kerry move with a goal in the 44th minute there was only one winner.
Lorraine Scanlon kicked three points in a tour de force from midfield, as Houlihan finished with a goal and nine points, and not even a late Waterford goal from substitute Maria Delehunty could take the shine of a great Kerry win to set up that TG4 Munster final with Cork.
Kerry: S Houlihan 1-9 (1-0 pen, 3f), A Murphy 1-2, L Scanlon 0-3 (1f), E Dineen 0-1, A O'Callaghan 0-1.
Waterford: M Delahunty 1-2, E Fennell 0-1 (1f), A Wall 0-1, L McGregor 0-1f, M Ryan 0-1
Kerry: L Fitzgerald, L Coughlan, S Murphy, E Lynch, D Kearney, A Desmond, A O'Connell, L Scanlon, A Brosnan, A Foley, L Ni Mhuircheartaigh, E Dineen, A Murphy, E O'Leary, S Houlihan. Subs: S Burns for L Ni Mhuircheartaigh (inj, 12), K O'Sullivan for S Burns (47), A O'Callaghan for A Brosnan (48), C O'Connor for A Foley (56), M Barry for A Murphy (58).
Waterford: G Kenneally, R Casey, M McGrath, Kate McGrath, M Wall, C McCarthy, M Dunford, Karen McGrath, K Murray, A Murray, M Ryan, L McGregor, A Wall, E Fennell, K Corbett Barry. Subs: S Ryan for E Fennell (39), A Mullaney for C McCarthy, M Delahunty for K Murray (47), C McGrath for L McGregor (53)
Referee: Jason Mullins (Limerick).