Kerry 0-14 Sligo 1-10
Kerry were once again far from impressive as they made it through to the fourth round of the All-Ireland SFC qualifiers, squeezing past a determined Sligo side in Tralee.
In the counties’ first Championship meeting since 1975, Sligo had the aid of a very strong wind in the first half and struck for the only goal in injury-time.
David Kelly, currently in a rich vein of form, slid the ball over the goal-line from a very tight angle after his initial shot had been blocked by Kerry goalkeeper Diarmuid Murphy.
That score nudged the Yeats men into a 1-06 to 0-07 and it was a deserved advantage, after Eamonn O’Hara’s move in towards the edge of the Kerry square began to pay dividends.
Having struggled past Longford last weekend, Kerry were keen to make a strong start and they did just that with early points from Declan O’Sullivan (after only 40 seconds) and Darragh O Se.
But Sligo quickly crowded their defence, closing the space around Colm Cooper and Tommy Walsh, and the visitors settled when Mark Breheny opened their scoring account with a long-range free.
Kerry continued to look dangerous, however, and a second O’Sullivan point was followed by a shot from Walsh which could so easily have resulted in a goal.
Sligo net minder Philip Greene did very well to deny the Kerins O’Rahilly clubman, flicking his foot out to block the placed shot.
Kerry had another goal-scoring opportunity, later in the half, but Sligo again survived as Sean O’Sullivan’s 28th-minute effort sailed wide of the left-hand post.
Kevin Walsh’s underdogs fought back to level the game on four separate occasions in the opening half, with Adrian Marren, the impish Kelly and Stephen Coen finding their range.
Paul Galvin was arguably Kerry’s best forward, kicking a couple of points and providing the assists for scores from Donnacha Walsh, the stand-in captain, and Sean O’Sullivan.
Galvin converted his second point, right on the stroke of half-time, but Kelly’s goal gave Sligo a timely boost for the break and was just reward for the hard work put in.
Kerry used their experience to edge back level within two minutes of the restart, with Cooper landing his first point from a free and Declan O’Sullivan his third from play.
Sligo swarmed forward to produce points from O’Hara and Marren, who clipped over a free after a foul on Kelly, to restore their lead but Walsh’s charges could only score two more points over the remaining half-hour.
With their midfield beginning to wield an influence, Kerry ominously grew into the game, picking off point after point. The O’Sullivans, Galvin and Cooper put their side in front before a Marren free kept Sligo alive.
The westerners were very much in the game and had they converted their scoring chances – with Coen and Kelly both guilty in that regard – this end-to-end encounter might have taken on a different complexion.
Kerry went two points ahead when Bryan Sheehan chipped in with a pointed free and wides from Sean Davey and Marren followed as the pressure began to tell.
With three minutes to go, Sligo got a lifeline. Davey cut through and earned a penalty for his side. But, summing up their second half, Kelly’s rising shot was well-saved by Dingle stopper Diarmuid Murphy.
Leading by 0-14 to 1-09, Kerry were not out of the woods yet.
Sligo substitute Ken Sweeney weaved his way through for a terrific point, making it a one-point game, but the visitors’ valiant search for a levelling score ended in disappointment as the Kingdom clung on, surviving another serious examination of their All-Ireland credentials.
KERRY: D Murphy; M Ó Sé, T Griffin, T O'Sullivan; T Ó Sé, M McCarthy, A O'Mahony; S Scanlon, D Ó Sé (0-01); P Galvin (0-03), Declan O'Sullivan (0-04), D Walsh (0-01); C Cooper (0-02), T Walsh (0-01), S O'Sullivan (0-01).
Subs used: B Sheehan (0-01) for S O’Sullivan (58 mins), M Quirke for Scanlon (62).
SLIGO: P Greene; P McGovern, N McGuire, C Harrison; M McNamara, R Donovan, J Davey; E Mullen, T Taylor; M Breheny (0-01), A Costello, A Marren (0-04); D Kelly (1-01), E O'Hara (0-01), S Coen (0-02).
Subs used: S Davey for Taylor (half-time), G Gaughan for Costello (52 mins), K Sweeney (0-01) for Coen (58).
Referee: Syl Doyle (Wexford)