Much as happened in the senior game later, it was the provincial champions who were looking stale early on as Meath, beaten by Longford in the Leinster final, raced into a 1-3 to zip lead within eight minutes of the start.
The goal came gift-wrapped from Kerry keeper Bryan Sheehan, when he went high over his own cross-bar to palm out a dropping ball and save a point, only for the lurking David Murtagh (inside the square, let it be said) to punch gratefully home.
It lurched from good to bad to worse for Kerry who were 2-7 to 1-4 in arrears at the break. The Kerry goal came courtesy of a coolly-struck Declan O’Sullivan penalty after Cathal MacGearailt was brought down following a fine surge from impressive midfielder Donncha Walsh and with O’Sullivan following up almost immediately with a fine point, that brought the Kingdom within two points of Meath, 1-4 to 1-2. A second Meath goal however, following a second error by their goalkeeping captain, put an end to that charge as big full-forward Joe Sheridan got fist to a high Barry Regan centre, the ball looping into the net with Sheehan having left his line.
With the wind at their backs for the second half, it was looking good for the Leinster-men. Kerry searched for a change of fortunes. They would have got it too but for continued stout defence by Meath. Looking a bit more fired up, time and again the Kerry forwards came racing forward, working some very good combinations, but always, came the red zone, there was a Meath jersey in front, closing the avenue, preventing them from scoring.
Again in a reflection of what was to come in the senior game, it was the Munster champions having to work very hard for little or no return while at the other end, the Meath strikers were the very model of efficiency. Six second-half points from seven shots at goal, while Kerry managed seven from eleven. Mind you, exonerated from any blame for this Kerry loss is left-half-forward Colin O’Connor. Lethal, lighting fast, the Laune Rangers star shot three points in the second half, one of which, a dipping, swerving shot after a scintillating run, surely deserved a goal. Full-forward Dan Doona was another who came into the game a little more towards the finish but really in the end, justice was done.
“This is great”, their delighted manager Benny Reddy said, still trying to get his wind. “Overall, we got the breaks we didn’t get against Longford; we got the early goals, punched balls. It’s a great day for Meath football, great for these lads. They’ve worked hard, they don’t miss training sessions, don’t miss challenge games, don’t mess around, and they deserve everything they’ve got. All the backs played well. We hassled, we harried, because we knew Kerry forwards are dangerous.
“People accused us of chopping and changing to suit Kerry - we weren’t, we were trying to get our own lads motivated. We won enough ball in the middle of the field, and we kept kicking it in. A lot of people give out about the long ball but by God when you have Joe Sheridan inside, you just keep belting the ball in there from the middle of the field. We’re looking forward now to the All-Ireland final”.
Scorers for Meath: J. Sheridan 1-4 (0-1 free); D. Murtagh 1-2; B. Farrell 0-2; B. Regan 0-2; F. Murphy, P. Murray, G. McCullagh, 0-1 each.
Kerry: D. O’Sullivan 1-2 (1-0 pen.); C. O’Connor 0-3; D. Walsh 0-2; D. Doona 0-2; M. Riordan, C. MacGearailt, 0-1 each.
MEATH: M. Brennan, B. O’Reilly, T. O’Connor, D. O’Halloran; S. Stephens, C. King, E. Dunne; J. Melia, F. Murphy; D. Murtagh, P. Murray, G. McCullagh; B. Regan, J. Sheridan, B. Farrell. Subs: A. Reynolds (Melia 48); M. Whearty (Murray 54); T. Farrelly (McCullagh 58); R. Brennan (O’Halloran 61); J. Carry-Lynch (Murtagh 62).
KERRY: B. Sheehan (c); M. Breen, C. O Ceilleachair, JM Clifford; J. Brosnan, M. Cronin, P. Sheehan; D. Walsh, P. Madden; M. Riordan, D. O’Sullivan, C. MacGearailt; B. Brosnan, D. Doona, C. O’Connor. Subs: D. Breen (B. Brosnan 39); P. Fitzmaurice (Cronin 39); D. Casey (Riordan 47); D. McCarthy MacGearailt 55).
Referee: S. McGonigle (Donegal).