Kerry finally shake off Meath to secure All-Ireland semi spot

Kerry finally shake off Meath to secure All-Ireland semi spot
Kerry's Sean O'Shea scores a goal. Pic: INPHO/Tommy Dickson

Meath 1-13 - 2-18 Kerry

Not as easy as it looks. Not by a long way.

If Kerry were comfortable in Navan this evening then it was only in small pockets. Take the opening five minutes and the last ten out of the equation here and you are left with a rollicking good Super 8 game. Take a bow, then, Meath. Though already eliminated before throw-in, the hosts made life distinctly uncomfortable for their visitors before tailing away towards the end.

Kerry were made work and they had some failings highlighted but they will be delighted with the manner in which they finally pulled away. They addressed their issues at the break, kept Meath to four points after it and claimed six of the last seven scores to finally put this one to bed.

And they did it without David Clifford who sat out the tie due to what manager Peter Keane described afterwards as a back spasm. Clifford took no part in the warm-up despite being togged out but Keane declares he would be ready to go for next week’s All-Ireland semi-final against either Dublin or Tyrone.

They arrived in Navan knowing they needed a win or a draw to make that semi - and the other group game between Mayo and Donegal redundant on the night - and there were long spells here where they may have been tempted to settle for the latter.

They tested Meath's appetite for battle early on, galloping into a four points to one lead inside the first seven minutes, but the hosts were in no mood to lay down and smooth the Kingdom's passage through to the semi-final stages. This one got interesting very quickly.

A key ingredient in the entertainment on offer was the struggles of both defences, Meath's against the high press from kickouts and Kerry's in open play for the first 35 minutes. Two goals came in the first-half, one apiece, but it could have been a multiple of that on a near perfect setting for a game of championship football.

Kerry's rearguard has been a cause for concern for some time, despite the change in management and an influx of new blood to the squad ranks during the league. Their concerns materialized early here, Paul Murphy dragging Bryan McMahon down early on to prevent the dangerous centre-forward from latching on to a loose high ball in front of the nets.

Cillian O'Sullivan had a half-shout at a penalty ignored and Shane Walsh hammered a shot just over the Kerry crossbar close to the half-hour. Walsh and O'Sullivan still did plenty of damage with the latter's pace and eye for a pass feeding the former time and again to brilliant effect.

It was an O'Sullivan burst that paved the way for the opening Meath goal, his handpass finding Darragh Campion who was running in off his shoulder and then rounded the goalkeeper before finishing from a tight angle. But Kerry had already found the net ten minutes earlier.

Brian O Beaglaoich was the scorer, profiting from a turnover from a Meath kickout, and this just seconds after Paul Geaney had sold dummies to three defenders before finding the side netting with the hard work all but done. It was a 60-second spell that summed up Kerry's half going forward.

Sublime in front of the posts in the first 15 minutes, they began to misfire midway through the half with a wide here and a dropped ball there, but they rediscovered their poise as the half-time approached and it's as well they did given Meath were still hungry for the fray.

Kerry only led 1-10 to 1-9 at the break and their opponents left the field accompanied by a raucous roar of approval from their supporters in the 9,300 crowd and with manager Andy McEntee tearing strips off Gavin Crowley for what may have been the Kerry defender's determined defending.

The second period couldn't start soon enough.

Kerry's second goal came eight minutes after the restart when the excellent O'Shea gave Gavin McCoy the slip – all too easily, it must be said – and slammed home a brilliant shot from a tight angle. It was a rare score in a third quarter that made up for that shortcoming with plenty of other drama.

Gavin White walked for a black card offence shortly after O'Shea's goal and there was one snapshot midway through the half when two Kerry players were down injured and Tommy Walsh was being mugged, legally, by three defenders 70 metres up the field.

There was a feverishness to the evening by now, a sense of giddiness and edge borne of the realisation that anything could still happen. That was great for the home support and any neutrals but the last thing Keane and anyone in the Kerry contingent would have wanted as they clung to a two-point lead.

In fairness to Kerry, they wrapped up their business without fuss from there.

Points from David Moran and Geaney doubled that lead to four – Kerry's largest advantage of the day to that point – and the Munster champions managed to maintain enough of a cushion from there to the end to insulate themselves against any further reverberations.

Job done. On to Croke Park.

Scorers for Meath: S Walsh (0-6, 3 frees); D Campion (1-1): B McMahon (0-3); B Menton, E Devine, T O'Reilly (all 0-1).

Scorers for Kerry: S O'Shea (1-8, 0-3 frees and 1 '45'); B O Beaglaoich (1-1); K Spillane (0-3); D Moran and P Geaney (both 0-2); T O'Sullivan and S O'Brien (both 0-1).

Meath: M Brennan: S Lavin, C McGill, S Gallagher; G McCoy, P Harnan, D Keogan; B Menton, S McEntee; E Devine, B McMahon; D Campion; C O'Sullivan, S Walsh, T O'Reilly. Subs: T McGovern for McEntee (26); R Ryan for McCoy (45); J Conlon for O'Reilly (51); N Kane for McGovern (55); M Burke for Devine (65); S Tobin for McMahon (67).

Kerry: S Ryan; T Morley, J Foley, T O'Sullivan; B O Beaglaoich, P Murphy, G Crowley; D Moran, A Spillane; S O'Brien, S O'Shea, G White; K Spillane, P Geaney, M Burns. Subs: D Moynihan for Burns (31); T Walsh for Crowley (40); S Enright for White (45); J Sherwood for A Spillane (47); J Lyne for O'Brien (43); J Barry for K Spillane (68).

Referee: F Kelly (Longford).

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