They may have finished the game with 13 men but Kerry still produced a controlled performance to arrest their recent run of underage defeats to Tipperary in last night’s Cadbury’s Munster U21FC quarter-final in Semple Stadium.
Losses at U21 and minor level over the past two years ensured Kerry approached this game in a focused frame of mind.
That was reflected in the explosive start they made to the match as they sprinted into a 0-5 to 0-0 lead after only 11 minutes but Kerry did not stroll to victory.
A gutsy revival from Tipperary before the break created doubt over the result once more and despite the dominance that Kerry exerted in the second-half, the dismissals of wing-forward Michael Brennan and midfielder James Walsh for second bookable offences, meant Kerry’s nerves were not assuaged until the final whistle.
For former Kerry defensive legend Eamonn Fitzmaurice, departing Thurles with a win in his inter-county managerial bow was a source of satisfaction.
“Relieved is the main feeling as tonight was all about the result,” he said.
“It was a good test for our fellas to see how they’d respond in the second-half with the sending-offs. The second yellow on Michael Brennan looked very harsh to me.
“He just went in on a ball and I’m not sure the Tipperary player had his hands around the ball. But those are the rules and we had to cope with them.”
Despite suffering personnel deficiencies, Kerry were able to pull through due to shining facets elsewhere in their display.
The return of 0-10 from their full-forward trio of Kieran Hurley, Conor Cox and Stephen O’Brien was integral to ensuring their qualification for a semi-final meeting withWaterford.
O’Brien was typically energetic as he constantly moved into space to collect deliveries and Fitzmaurice reserved special praise for the Kenmare attacker who popped up with a couple of big relieving points in the second-half.
“Stephen was outstanding. In fairness to him he had an exam in UCC today but he came up here and showed great leadership, and also kicked a couple of great points.”
Tipperary approached the game in an optimistic mood following their recent underage triumphs but the match concluded on a low note.
They struggled to get up to the tempo of the action at the start yet overcame that tentative opening to power into the match.
Despite trailing by 0-5 to 0-0 after 19 minutes, Tipperary enjoyed a golden period as the tie inched towards the interval.
Liam McGrath and Michael Quinlivan began to replicate the dazzling form they showed at minor level last summer while Jonathan Ryan and Donagh Leahy anchored the Tipperary challenge at the back.
When Liam Treacy swivelled to point neatly in first-half injury time, Tipperary were only 0-7 to 0-5 behind and their supporters in the 1,123 attendance were in buoyant form at the break.
But Tipperary never built on the momentum generated from that scoring spree and failed to register in front of goal in the second-half.
Their supply into their inside forwards was sub-standard on occasion and they found it difficult to exploit the advantage provided by the extra man when Brennan was dismissed in the 37th minute.
Kerry in contrast used the possession cleverly, aided by the control that Darragh O’Sullivan and James Walsh wrestled back around midfield.
Fergal McNamara and Jack Sherwood were to the fore in a disciplined defensive effort, and while Tipperary were affected by their failure to capitalise on dead ball opportunities, they did not get the space to create chances in open play.
The closest Tipperary came to firing a goal was in the 41st minute when centre-forward Adrian Cleere struck the crossbar with a fierce shot but in general the Kerry rearguard yielded little.
At the other end, they were clinical during their rare forays upfield with O’Brien and Cox raising white flags with beautiful shots during the second half.
Even the sending-off of Walsh in the 54th minute failed to knock them off their stride and the Kingdom outfit closed out the game in impressive style.
Scorers for Kerry: S O’Brien, C Cox (1f) 0-4 each, K Hurley 0-2, P Kilkenny 0-1.
Scorers for Tipperary: D Leahy, A Cleere, L Treacy, M Quinlivan, L McGrath 0-1 each.
KERRY: P O’Sullivan; P Galvin, M Griffin, F McNamara; P Kilkenny, J Sherwood, P Murphy; D O’Sullivan, J Walsh; M Brennan, C Brady, S O’Carroll; K Hurley, C Cox, S O’Brien.
Subs: I Galvin for Hurley (42), D Culhane for P Galvin (46), T Morley for Kilkenny (53), M Reen for Brady (60), E O’Connor for Cox (60).
TIPPERARY: E Comerford; G Mulhair, D Kearney, M Hanly; D Leahy, N O’Meara, J O’Callaghan; A Campbell, A Matassa; S Leahy, A Cleere, B Hewitt; L Treacy, M Quinlivan, L McGrath.
Subs: I Fahey for Hewitt (inj. 26), L Boland for Matassa (45), P O’Meara for Treacy (46), P Murphy for Campbell (57), S O’Meara for Cleere (60).
Referee: Conor Lane (Cork)
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