The Connacht champions wasted numerous scoring chances, particularly in the first-half, but Kerry gradually got themselves into it and their “more efficient” work in attack that got them through.
The Connacht champions should have had three goals inside the opening nine minutes and shot 12 wides, many from good positions. They kept Kerry to just one point in 24 second-half minutes, but, crucially, O’Sullivan’s boys found the net with the last kick of the first-half to lead 1-5 to 0-5.
Jack Savage slotted an easy free for Kerry from the game’s first attack, but Roscommon were the dominant side early on. The high-fielding Thomas Corcoran was outstanding in the middle and Roscommon were able to break through the Kerry defence at will in the opening quarter.
The beaten Munster finalists were struggling to cope with their opponents’ pressure game and power-running and Enda Smith had two efforts on goal blocked – one spectacularly on the line – before Michael Gunning crashed a shot off the crossbar. Niall Sheehy pointed to put Kerry two clear, but Roscommon were level very quickly courtesy of Enda Smith and Kevin Finn.
Diarmuid Murtagh was looking dangerous at corner-forward for Roscommon and he was fouled by Kerry goalkeeper, Gavin Curran for a penalty in the eighth minute. Curran redeemed himself by diving to his right to save Murtagh’s low kick.
Kerry were unable to get Sheehy into the play and he was soon moved to centre-forward. He pointed a free after being fouled but it was nip and tuck, the sides level on 0-5 apiece when wing-back Brian Crowley goaled.
Roscommon flew out at the start of the second-half and were level by the 38th minute as Murtagh and McManus converted frees and Finn hit the target from play after fine work by Conor Hussey.
Kerry finally ended their barren spell courtesy of Sheehy, after good industry by Conor Keane. Just minutes earlier, Keane had a blistering shot saved by Shane Mannion as Roscommon appeared to be running out of steam.
Three frees from Savage helped stretch the margin to three and Sheehy and Philip Neilan were both sent off for second yellow card offences.
Corcoran launched two frees from distance as Roscommon made one final push, but Smith shot wide from the last chance of the game and Kerry prevailed.
“Roscommon could be sick,” said O’Sullivan. “In the first-half, they had a lot of the ball and we were still hanging in there. It took us a while to get to the pace of the game but after 15 minutes, we began to control the middle of the field.
“They were always going to come at us again, but I liked the fact we went again. I felt we could win it at 40% of possession because we had the forwards to punish them.
O’Sullivan feels his charges will benefit from the game, and in particular from having the experience of competing at Croke Park.
“Conditions were very difficult for both teams. If you tried anything elaborate at all… It didn’t suit our style of football but this was a very good Roscommon team and their shooting let them down. We were more efficient with our possession. It’s a relief to be this far and anything else now is a bonus.”
Scorers for Kerry: J Savage 0-4(fs); N Sheehy 0-3(1f); B Crowley 1-0, C Fitzgerald 0-2.Scorers for Roscommon: D Murtagh 0-4(2fs); K Finn, E Smith, T Corcoran(fs) 0-2 each; R McManus 0-1(f).
KERRY: G Curran; P O’Connor, G Crowley, C Ó Lúing; B Crowley, R Murphy, G Horan; K Murphy, J Barry; D Foran, J Savage, C Fitzgerald; D Carmody, N Sheehy, C Keane.
Subs: S Moloney for Carmody (46); Gary O’Sullivan for Barry (54).
ROSCOMMON: S Mannion; P Neilan, D Barron, C Kenny; R Daly, C Hussey, N McInerney; U Harney, T Corcoran; K Kilcline, E Smith, R McManus; D Murtagh, K Finn, M Gunning. Subs: L Kilcline for Barron inj (24); B Fannon for McInerney (51); D Feely for Finn (53); Finn for Gunning (58).
Referee: D Gough (Meath).