In fits and starts Kerry motored. And sporadic though they were, these bursts of enterprise proved just about sufficient to deliver a second Allianz league win.
Save for an opening 16-minute effort and a nine-minute period midway through the second-half where they reeled off six points without reply, this was not at all convincing from Kerry.
Yes, Meath never got closer than two points throughout, but against a side who have not managed a competitive victory since July 7 of last year, Kerry, on their home patch, were laboured, less than watertight at the back, and without a commanding presence in a midfield sector beaten all ends up on the kick-out front.
The win, despite its imperfections, moves Kerry to fourth in Division 1, one point off the two counties — Dublin and Galway — currently heading up the table. Manager Peter Keane said afterwards it is too early to be talking about potential league final involvement. He’s right. And anyway, he has more pressing matters to command his focus between now and Saturday’s spin to Castlebar.
The Kerry defence — the full-back line, in particular — was prised open with frightening regularity in the final quarter. In a five-minute spell, Meath created three goal openings. Bryan McMahon finished the first of them, with Brian Kelly subsequently denying Thomas O’Reilly and Donal Keogan.
The visitors, desperate to end their losing streak, were finishing like a train. Bryan Menton and Cillian O’Sullivan (free) kicked a pair of points to cut the deficit to three (1-18 to 2-12). And with five minutes of injury-time still to be played, the clock wasn’t entirely against them.
O’Sullivan’s aforementioned free came from a black card foul committed by Micheál Burns. His Dr Crokes clubmate Tony Brosnan followed him to the sin bin shortly after. Kerry, down to 13, were beginning to yearn for the final whistle. Meath, try though they did, could not engineer an equalising goal.
“It was,” Keane said when put to him that that had been a struggle.
“Meath are well managed, well structured. They fought like hell for everything. They are no bad team. I know they lost their three earlier games but there wasn’t much in them. Anyone that came in here today expecting us to beat them by 20 points, I certainly didn’t come to the game expecting that. We had our hands full with 15, never mind when we were down to 13.”
What sustained the home side during Meath’s forceful closing act was the eight-point buffer they had eked out when landing six on the bounce midway through the second-half. This scoreburst was in direct response to Meath’s most dominant spell, during which the visitors chiseled Kerry’s lead to two, 1-11 to 1-9, but fluffed further opportunities to gain parity.
David Clifford (free), Burns (0-2), Seán O’Shea (free), and sub Dara Moynihan (0-2) all found the target during nine minutes of captivating football from the blue-shirted hosts. You had David Clifford intercepting a Meath pass on his own ‘45, Gavin White and Shane Enright continued to make a nuisance of themselves along that very line, Micheál Burns successfully launched two missiles from out the field, while Tommy Walsh lifted full-back Conor McGill clean into the air as the pair grappled for possession.
No question but Moynihan and Walsh injected a bit of urgency into Kerry’s play when introduced.
“There was a bit of energy required,” Keane said. “You saw from the stand there was energy when the two boys came in, Tommy, in particular. He caught a couple of great balls when he came in and contributed greatly.”
Equally impressive was Kerry’s opening to the first-half, watched by 8,512.
By the 16th minute, Keane’s charges, despite playing into a strong-ish wind, had raced 1-5 clear. Meath wouldn’t land their first score until a minute later.
Debutant David Shaw provided the assist for Clifford’s goal, it coming right at the end of Cillian O’Sullivan’s 10 minutes in the bin. He was guilty of pulling down Jack Barry. The Royals rallied and produced a burst of 1-2 — the full of running Donal Keogan supplying the green flag — to claw themselves back into proceedings.
A hardworking defensive unit forced a plethora of turnovers when outnumbering the isolated Kerry forward in possession. They twice narrowed the gap to two, but lost Keogan to a black card approaching the half-hour. Andy McEntee was none too pleased with these decisions.
“It seems to me since we made an issue of some black cards that weren’t doled out up in Tyrone [in Round 1], that we’re on the receiving end of it. Maybe, that is just a coincidence. Maybe, I’m just being paranoid, but just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you,” he said.
“It looked ominous [early on], but our fellas showed character.”
The interval scoreline stood at 1-10 to 1-5. Meath closed in the second-half, but not sufficiently. Their wait for a first league win continues.
D Clifford (1-3, 0-1 free); S O’Shea (0-6, 0-6 frees); M Burns (0-3); D Shaw, P Geaney, D Moynihan (0-2 each); T Walsh (0-1).
T O’Reilly (0-6, 0-5 frees); D Keogan, B McMahon (1-0 each); C O’Sullivan (0-1 free), J Conlon (0-2 each); O O’Brien, B Menton, J McEntee (0-1 each).
B Kelly; P Murphy, T Morley, G O’Sullivan; T O’Sullivan, S Enright, G White; L Kearney, J Barry; M Burns, S O’Shea, S O’Brien; D Shaw, D Clifford, P Geaney.
D Moynihan for Kearney (44 mins); T Walsh for Shaw (50); T Brosnan for O’Brien (61); D O’Connor for Geaney (70).
M Brennan; D Toner, C McGill, R Clarke; J McEntee, R Ryan, D Keogan; B Conlon, B Menton; E Devine, B McMahon, C O’Sullivan; J Conlon, T O’Reilly, O’Brien.
E Wallace for Devine (54 mins); S Tobin for J Conlon, D Lenihan for O’Brien (both 59); G McCoy for B Conlon (64); Ross Ryan for Ronan Ryan (66).
D O’Mahony (Tipperary).