'Strange' Kerry do enough as Sheehan provides cool head to sidestep Tipp landmine
Kerry 2-14 Tipperary 2-8 Munster SFC semi-final
The bookies had the handicap betting at +6 before this one and they're never too far wrong.
Kerry were far from convincing but in a case of damned if they did and damned if they didn't, the Munster and All-Ireland champions cleared the first fence in Championship 2015 at Semple Stadium yesterday.
A bumper 11,248 attendance caught Munster Council and stadium officials unaware as huge queues formed outside the New Stand, the only entry point to the ground, long before throw-in.
The start time was delayed by 15 minutes as fans filed to the empty Old Stand via the Town End terrace but when they were finally settled, Tipp were off to a whirlwind start, leading by 1-1 to 0-0 within four minutes.
Those who travelled looking for an upset had their hopes raised but Kerry absorbed the early pressure and when the dust settled, had safely negotiated a safe passage to a Munster final date with Cork on July 5.
Colm 'Gooch' Cooper came through his Championship comeback unscathed and while the lungs will have burned, he still managed to score two of his three points from play.
Bryan Sheehan was Kerry's standout player, however, notching five points, three of those from placed balls.
Kerry boss Eamonn Fitzmaurice described his team's performance as "strange", indicating that he expected more following a warm-weather training spin in Portugal. But that journey came at a cost, with Kieran O'Leary suffering a season-ending injury and All Star wing-back Paul Murphy ruled out with a shoulder problem.
Fitzmaurice opted to load his bench and he emptied it in the second half, with the likes of James O'Donoghue, Darran O'Sullivan and Tommy Walsh getting game-time into the legs.
From a Tipp perspective, this was an encouraging showing and the gap that was 17 points when the teams met in Killarney two years ago narrowed considerably.
But manager Peter Creedon was disappointed that the game wasn't in the melting pot down the home straight.
A tally of 13 wides was an obvious factor but so too were injuries to Ian Fahey, which ruled him out in the pre-match warm-up, Colin O'Riordan, Robbie Kiely and George Hannigan.
Kiely and Hannigan were both forced off and U-21 powerhouse O'Riordan was visibly limping after injuring his ankle in the first half, leaving the joint swollen.
O'Riordan soldiered on but wasn't as influential as he would have liked to have been, with Kerry dominating the crucial middle third.
O'Riordan, named at wing-forward, drifted deep to provide an outlet for Evan Comerford's kickouts but Kerry won this sector, with Sheehan and Anthony Maher dovetailing reasonably well.
Vast improvement is needed from Kerry next month but after stuttering past Clare last year, they unloaded against Cork in the Munster final. The Rebels will have taken note.
Cooper did what he had to, getting through the game with minimum fuss, and his opening score in the 20th minute had Kerry fans on their feet and chanting 'Gooch, Gooch.'
He was back and Kerry will improve as the summer unfolds, with a number of key stars including Murphy, David Moran and Paul Galvin thrown into the mix.
Tipp were chasing a first senior Championship victory over Kerry in 87 years and couldn't have asked for a better start, with Michael Quinlivan netting the first of his two goals in the fourth minute.
But Kerry hit back with majors from Barry John Keane and Paul Geaney, both avoidable concessions from a Tipp viewpoint.
Keane's goal was well-worked after Comerford's kickout, meant for Steven O'Brien, went astray.
And Geaney pounced from close range after Jonathan Lyne's diagonal delivery from the right touchline, very much in the 'route one' category, created panic in the Tipp full-back line.
But a minute later, Tipp hit back through Quinlivan and by half-time, they were just two adrift, 2-6 to 2-4.
Kerry opened the second half with intent and killed the game with five unanswered points, as Tipp continued to take wrong options in shooting positions.
Ger Mulhaire did break through in the 57th minute but Brendan Kealy pulled off a fine save and any faint hope of a comeback was extinguished.
A goal then would have cut the gap to five but Kerry weathered the minor storm and cruised home.
Referee Cormac Branagan had a strange game, puzzling both sets of fans with some of his decision-making.
O'Brien could have gone on a black card in the first and Cooper was fortunate too when he ankle-tapped the Tipp man in the second half.
Creedon opted for the tongue-in-cheek approach, having received a touchline ban earlier in the year for criticising David Coldrick's performance in the Armagh League match.
Creedon said: "All I'll say is that the GAA have got some brilliant referees.
"We had a brilliant referee above in Armagh who executed the refereeing brilliantly, today's referee executed the rules of the game brilliantly as well, absolutely outstanding performance from the referee."
Fitzmaurice remained tight-lipped, reflecting: "I'm not going to be talking about referees, lads. He did fine. It's a bit early in the Championship for that."
He was more concerned with his team's display, adding: "It was a strange performance, there were patches of frustrating stuff and a lot of good stuff as well, particularly in the second half.
"We got six or seven points ahead at one stage but we got very sloppy in possession after that. Because we went to Portugal closer to the Championship, I would have thought we'd have been a good bit sharper."
Scorers - Kerry: P Geaney 1-2, B J Keane 1-1, B Sheehan 0-5 (3f), C Cooper 0-3 (1f), A Maher, M Geaney, S O'Brien 0-1 each. Tipperary: M Quinlivan 2-0, C Sweeney 0-2fs, C O'Riordan, G Mulhaire, B Fox, K O'Halloran ('45'), B Grogan (f), J Lonergan (0-1) each.
KERRY - B Kealy 7; M Ó Sé 7, M Griffin 6, S Enright 7; J Lyne 7, P Crowley 6, K Young 6; A Maher 7, B Sheehan 9; M Geaney 7, C Cooper 8, J Buckley 5; P Geaney 8, K Donaghy 6, BJ Keane 8. Subs: S O'Brien 7 for Buckley (33), J O'Donoghue 7 for Keane (48), A O'Mahony 7 for Crowley (49), D O'Sullivan 6 for M Geaney (53), D Walsh 6 for Sheehan (62), T Walsh NR for Maher (67).
TIPPERARY - E Comerford 6; P Codd 7, C McDonald 7, R Kiely 6; S Kennedy 6, P Acheson 7, A Campbell 6; S O'Brien 6, G Hannigan 6; C O'Riordan 6, P Austin 6, G Mulhaire 7; C Sweeney 6, M Quinlivan 7, B Fox 67. Subs: J Lonergan 7 for Kiely (31), B Grogan 6 for Hannigan (ht), K O'Halloran 5 for Austin (54), L Casey NR for Fox (65), B Mulvihill NR for Sweeney (65), A Morrissey NR for Kennedy (70).
Ref - C Branagan (Down)