A powerful start to the second half provided the necessary impetus for Kerry to secure their third All-Ireland MBHC title in-a-row following an absorbing battle with Meath in Nenagh on Saturday.
In a game that saw both sides reduced to 14-men, Ian Brick’s side managed to stave off a strong Meath challenge thanks to second half goals from sub Jordan Conway and man-of-the-match Brandon Barrett.
The opening half proved a nip and tuck affair with Kerry gifted a tonic start when full-forward Fionán O’Sullivan netted after just three minutes. Meath responded well with points from Josh Wall, Ross Ryan and scorer-in-chief, Charlie Bird (free) to bring them back level.
Despite playing into a stiff breeze, Kerry managed to keep pace with a physical Meath side before successive Bird frees in the 20th and 22nd minutes fired Meath into a deserved two-point lead. Indeed, midfielder Bird was on fire throughout the half but his impact for the remainder of the game was lessened somewhat after he picked up a 27th minute knock.
Kerry upped the tempo as the interval approached with Johnny Buckley deftly cutting the deficit to one before the Kingdom elected to re-jig their attack with the hugely impressive Jack Goulding drafted into the fray. Late points from Barrett (free) and Fionán Mackessy ensured the sides went in level at the break, 1-7 to 0-10.
Kerry emerged determined to build upon their impressive finish to the opening half and three-quick-fire points from Jason Diggins, Mackessy and sub, Jonathan Brick had Meath reeling.
Bird, now operating at full-forward, had a goalbound shot well saved by Stephen Murphy in the 39th minute before a Brandon Barrett free edged Kerry four clear.
Meath battled on gamely but their challenge suffered a huge blow on 47 minutes when Josh Wall was straight red-carded following an altercation with Johnny Buckley on the ground. Kerry gleefully seized the initiative, pulling seven points clear before midfielder, Jason Diggins, was dismissed for a second yellow-card offence.
Meath were offered hope when Martin Healy netted in the 58th minute but a point from Jack Goulding coupled with a Jordan Conway goal dismissed the possibility of any Royal comeback. Kerry added a third goal from Barrett deep in injury-time before Gavin McGowan netted a consolation goal for Meath.
Scorers for Kerry: B Barrett (1-7, 0-6fs), F O’Sullivan, J Conway (1-0 each), F Mackessy, J Buckley (one free) (0-3 each), J Goulding (0-2), J Diggins, J Brick, D O’Carroll (0-1 each).
Scorers for Meath: C Bird (0-12, 8fs, 1 65, 1 s/l), M Healy, G McGowan (1-0 each), J Wall (0-2, 1f), R Ryan (0-1).
KERRY: S Murphy; A Mahony, M Leen, S O’Sullivan; B Lyons, D Shanahan, M Lynch; R Collins, J Diggins; J Buckley, B Barrett, A Murphy; J Diggins, F O’Sullivan, F Mackessey.
Subs: J Goulding for A Murphy (28), J Brick for Lynch (30), J Barrett for Collins (36), Daniel O’Carroll for O’Sullivan (44), J Conway for J Diggins (55).
MEATH: A McGee; J Bird, L Swaine, J Hackett; J Payne, C Dempsey, K Dixon; C Bird, L Moran; J Wall, M Healy, L Martin; R, Ryan, L Carey, R Ryan.
Subs: I Hughes for Dixon (25), G McGowan for Carey (44), D Brogan for Hackett (54).
Referee: D Hughes (Carlow)