Final surge sees Kingdom over the line against Royals
Christy Ring Cup Round 2A
By the finish there were flashes of the Kerry of a couple of weeks ago.
Kerry 1-23 Meath 2-18
Flashes of that hunger and desire so evident in the victories over Antrim and Westmeath. Flashes of speed of movement and slickness of touch. Most welcome they were too, as for much of the match there was a certain staleness to the Kingdom's performance.
Kerry were flat against Down in the first round and for a lot of this game they were equally so. That had to be of worry to Eamonn Kelly and his management team. There had to be a certain level of concern that Kerry had peaked again too soon.
Those fears were allayed by those fine final twenty minutes. Kerry hit upon a shape and a rhythm and, most crucially of all, they upped the intensity to a level which this impressive young Meath side couldn't match.
Up until that point Meath looked the side with all the energy. They were first to the breaks, out in front of their men, moving the ball at pace and with a precision rarely matched by the hosts. The Royals left the Kingdom with their heads held high, plenty locals left suitably impressed by how they performed
Meath were an unknown quantity to the Kerry players and coaching staff before the game and that possibly played to their advantage. The hosts just didn't know what to expect. What they encountered was a side who belied their Division 2B status.
They came with a plan and a defined way of playing the game, dropping men deep and operating a sweeper system. For most of the game the conundrum it posed seemed to stump Meath's high-flying hosts.
There was no indication of any of that inside the opening sixty seconds. Then it looked as though this might be an eminently easy day at the office for Kerry. Shane Nolan hit an absolute peach of a pass cross field to Colm Harty and the Causeway man scored yet another goal (he's scored a goal in each of Kerry's last five games).
Just forty four seconds on the clock and the game set up for an easy victory by the hosts... or so we thought. Meath had other ideas.
With Jack Regan unerring from the placed ball and their sweeper system working a treat (James Toner was especially impressive), Meath gradually hauled themselves back into contention. By the twentieth minute they'd already pulled level at 1-3 to 0-6.
If alarm bells weren't ringing just yet for the Kerry faithful, they soon would be. With twenty minutes on the clock Meath corner-forward Willie McGrath picked out colleague Alan Douglas in space.
After the Trim man had a rasper of a shot saved by Kerry's James Logue, he was fouled in a challenge for the rebound and a penalty was given (a somewhat dubious penalty in the eyes of some, but to be fair Declan O'Driscoll showed no hesitation).
Regan stepped up and blasted it straight at Logue who got a touch on it. Alas for the Tipp native there was little he could do by then but watch it squirt between his legs and over the line.
It was the least Meath deserved for their efforts. They were slicker, faster, hungrier to the break and Kerry could have no complaints to find themselves four points down at half-time, 1-9 to Meath's 1-13.
John Egan aside, Kerry struggled to get on much ball at all around the middle of the park. The half-forward line struggled more often than not to claim possession and the inside line saw far too little of the action.
Still for all these problems, Kerry could take solace from the fact this was a much better game than the one seven days beforehand. Meath deserve huge credit for that. The outcome was still very much in question at half-time. The question then was whether Meath would have the resolve to hang on for victory.
The resolve and crucially the stamina and, perhaps, it was here that the Kingdom held the edge. Meath held their own for most of the half. Kerry would hit a few scores and Meath would strike back straight away.
With less than twenty minutes to go Kerry still trailed. It was around then, the fiftieth minute mark, that the tide began to turn for Kerry. They made greater use of their bench (using all five subs, whereas Meath used just three and one of those was introduced with mere minutes remaining) and pushed on powerfully.
Patrick Kelly moved to midfield, Egan operated as the sweeper and John Griffin began to pick up some breaks. The Kingdom turned a two point deficit into a five point surplus with the game heading into extra-time. Crisis averted.
Meath were not content to leave it at that, however, and with a final flourish burst up the pitch with the type of energy and brio they'd demonstrated all afternoon. Willie McGrath won possession and drove on powerfully to finish emphatically past Logue.
A disappointing way for Kerry to end the game having struck back so impressively. Another little indication that this championship won't be won any other way but hard.
Kerry: James Logue, Bryan Murphy, Paud Costello, Keith Carmody, Daniel Collins (0-1), Darren Dineen, Patrick Kelly, John Griffin, John Egan (0-2), Colm Harty (1-0), Adrian Royle, Shane Nolan (0-12, 9f, 1 '65), Mikey Boyle (0-1), Padraig Boyle (0-3), Philip Lucid Subs: Davy Butler (0-1) for P Lucid, 25, Sean Weir (0-1) for A Royle, half-time, Rory Horgan (0-1) for B Murphy, 43, John O'Neill (0-1) for C Harty, 61, James Flaherty for P Boyle, 67
Meath: Shane McCann, Cormac Reilly, Shane Brennan, Shane Whitty, Keith Keoghan, Mickey Burke (0-1), Sean Heavey, James Toner, Stephen Morris, Jack Fagan (0-2), Charlie Bird, Jack Regan (1-11, 1-0 penalty, 7f, 1 sideline cut), Willie McGrath (1-3), Damien Healy, Alan Douglas Subs: Eoin Marsh (0-1) for C Bird, 26, Padraig Keogh for D Healy, 65, Sean Quigley for S Morris, 68
Referee: Declan O'Driscoll (Limerick)
Austin Stack Park, Tralee
THE Game in 60 seconds
A number of Kerry contenders here - Keith Carmody was excellent throughout, Dan Collins fronted up brilliantly - but we're going to give the nod to John Egan for an assured display in what's not his best position.
When would the real Kerry stand up? Around the fiftieth minute mark as it turned out. The switches worked and Kerry's greater fitness saw them over the line.
Arguably it was Rory Horgan's introduction into the fold. That or Patrick Kelly's move to midfield.