The Kingdom returned to the top flight after a three-year absence with a three-point victory over Galway. Kerry led by six points at half-time – 1-8 to 0-5 – and by eight in the final quarter.
But Galway ensured a nervy finish by reducing the deficit to two points approaching the finish. Houlihan said: “Galway had the breeze in the second half and we knew it would be tough. But we put the shoulder to the wheel. We’ve been three years in Division 2 and we wanted to get back to Division 1.
“Thankfully the buzzer came when we wanted.”
Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh’s early penalty helped Kerry to lead by 1-4 to 0-0 in the early stages but it was game on in the second half when Annette Clarke netted a Galway penalty.
Scorers for Galway: E Concannon 0-6f, A Clarke 1-0 pen, B Hannon, D Brennan, A Daly & L Hannon 0-1 each.
Scorers for Kerry: L Ní Mhuircheartaigh 1-3 (1-0 pen, 0-2f), S Houlihan 0-6 (4f), B Breen, P Dennehy, L Scanlon & L Rogers 0-1 each.
GALWAY: J Connolly; A Rohan, R McPhilibin, N Ward; B Hannon, E Flaherty, S Burke; A Clarke, E Curley; G Conneally, D Brennan, A Daly; T Leonard, R Leonard, E Concannon.
Subs: L Joyce for T Leonard (h.t.), L Hannon for Conneally (45), C Cormican for Curley (45), C Hehir for Brennan (48), G O’Connor for R Leonard (54).
KERRY: E Murphy; C Lynch, A Desmond, A Lyons; B Lane, C Kelly, D Hallissey; E Sherwood, B Breen; D Corridan, M Fitzgerald, S Houlihan; L Galvin, P Dennehy, L Ní Mhuircheartaigh.
Subs: L Scanlon for Fitzgerald (h.t.), L Rogers for Dennehy (h.t.), M O’Connell for Galvin (45).
Referee: M Farrelly (Cavan).