At half-time, however, it looked as if the Munster champions would face a real arm-wrestle to progress to the final against Cavan in a fortnight as Sligo reeled off five unanswered points to go in level at 0-8 points each.
The Kingdom’s response was emphatic, though. By the time Sligo would get their ninth point, from midfielder Ray Connolly in the 47th minute, Kerry had added 1-7 to their score after an incredible start to the second half. From there, the outcome was inevitable and the closing stages were a procession.
Kerry manager Stephen Wallace believed it was a good test for his team for long periods, despite the imbalance on the scoreboard at the end.
“We went in at the break eight-all and were very worried in the dressing room. There were a few strong words and the players came out, as they’ve always done, and produced it.
“It was the first test of the team, bar a 10- or 12-minute spell against Cork. They had to stand up, they did and that’ll stand to them.”
Wallace wasn’t exaggerating when he highlighted the worries, for Sligo had really taken hold of the game from the 25th minute, eradicating an 0-8 to 0-3 deficit in the five minutes plus injury time. Centre-forward Barry O’Mahony was the chief architect of the fight-back, along with Cathal Brennan and Mark McGoldrick inside, as Kerry’s incisive thrust disappeared. Up until then, they had looked far superior, with Gavan O’Grady to the fore as they built the lead.
The strong words referenced by the manager had the desired effect though as Kerry reasserted themselves upon the resumption. Ciarán Keating’s point got the momentum going and then O’Grady – who would finish with nine points – added two more while only a fine Chris McGlynn save denied Brian Crowley.
Andrew Garnett and Brendan O’Sullivan had restored their midfield dominance while wing-back Greg Gibson and impressive subs, Dara Roche and Alan O’Donoghue, got in on the scoring act too before Keating added another. That left eight between them and then O’Donoghue’s good work ended with Roche netting to put the game to bed.
Connolly ended Sligo’s drought after that – incidentally, their first wide wouldn’t come until the 50th minute, followed immediately by their second – but Kerry were in the groove by now, with the auditions for final places ensuring there was no let-up.
O’Grady continued his near-flawless shooting while Roche, who had come on for injured captain Thomas Hickey in the 12th minute, did much to advance his claims, finishing with 1-3.
Edmund Walsh also came off the bench to remind the management what he is capable of and late on, centre-back Denis Daly capped his energetic performance with a brilliant run from deep, ending with the second goal.
Scorers for Kerry: G O’Grady 0-9 (two frees), D Roche 1-3, C Keating 0-3, D Daly 1-0, G Gibson, T Hickey, E Walsh, A O’Donoghue, S Murphy (one ‘45’), J O’Donoghue 0-1 each.
Scorers for Sligo: M McGoldrick 0-3 (0-2f), B O’Mahony, C Brennan, R Connolly 0-2 each, D Cummins 0-1.
KERRY: S Murphy (Kilcummin); F Clifford (Waterville), K O’Dwyer (do.), D Wrenn (Tarbert); G Gibson (Waterville), D Daly (St Mary’s), G Crowley (Templenoe); A Garnett (Spa), B O’Sullivan (Valentia); P O’Connor (Cordal), C Keating (Skellig Rangers), B Crowley (Templenoe); G O’Grady (Glenbeigh/Glencar), P Kennelly (Ballydonoghue), T Hickey (Desmonds).
Subs: D Roche (Glenflesk) for Hickey (12, inj); E Walsh (Knocknagoshel) for Kennelly (h/t); A O’Donoghue (John Mitchels) for B Crowley (35); S Moloney (John Mitchels) for Gibson (46); P Ó Sé (Gaeltacht) for Garnett (56); J O’Donoghue (Glenflesk) for Keating (56).
SLIGO: C McGlynn (Coolera/Strandhill); L Bree (St Vincent’s), B McGarry (St Mary’s), R Reid (Eastern Harps); J Kelly (Tubbercurry), D O’Connor (St Mary’s), C Surlis (Tubbercurry); R Connolly (Coolaney/Mullinabreena), D O’Boyle (Calry/St Joseph’s); C Burns (St Molaise Gaels), B O’Mahony (Coolera/Strandhill), C Davey (Coolaney/Mullinabreena); C Brennan (Curry), C Egan (St Mary’s), M McGoldrick (St Mary’s).
Subs: S Curley (Castleconnor) for Brennan (ht), G Feeney (Drumcliffe/Rosses Pt) for Reid (45), E McDonagh (Coolaney/Mullinabreena) for McGlynn (45), O Fox (St John’s) for O’Boyle (50), D Quinn (Shamrock Gaels) for Curley (57), D Cummins (Calry St Joseph’s) for Kelly (57).
Referee: F Barry (Kildare).