Kerry dig it out as game goes along expected lines

All Ireland SFC Super 8s Group 1 Round 3: Meath 1-13 Kerry 2-18

Seán O'Shea of Kerry celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Quarter-Final Group 1 Phase 3 match between Meath and Kerry
Seán O'Shea of Kerry celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Quarter-Final Group 1 Phase 3 match between Meath and Kerry

Damian Stack, Páirc Tailteann

Was there any stage in the game where it was possible to imagine Meath doing the unthinkable and dumping Kerry from the championship?

When Darragh Campion rattled the back of the net? When the Meath roar went up and rattled the rickety old stand in Páirc Tailteann? When Kerry looked under the cosh at kick-out time (Campion's goal came almost directly from a Shane Ryan restart)?

You'd be stretching it to say that it was. Despite struggles in a couple of departments, there was nothing especially out of the ordinary about any of this. We expected Meath to come with a little something, with pride and a bit of spite and fight.

We expected the Royals to front up for a good forty to forty five minutes and we expected Kerry to dig deep when they really had to in order to ensure qualification for the semi-finals and, in all likelihood, top spot in the group.

The script for this game was written in advance and it played out almost precisely along those lines. When it came down to the crunch point in the game, when the question became one of who wanted it more, there was only ever going to be one winner.

A team with everything on the line is always going to want it more than a team playing merely for pride and, to be fair to Meath, even in defeat they had much to be proud about.

They caused problems for Kerry, a few more maybe than Peter Keane would have liked beforehand, but even the Cahersiveen man would admit that's no bad thing. Every experience is invaluable to a young side like this Kerry one.

The opening exchanges saw Kerry open out an early three point lead - 0-4 to 0-1 with three points from Seán O'Shea (playing an advanced position) and one from David Moran - with Kerry's lines of running, inter-change and rotation catching Meath off guard, initially at least.

Meath got to grips a little better as the half progressed and with something of a foothold at kick-out time, levelled the game up at five scores apiece by the twelfth minute following three unanswered from full-forward Shane Walsh (a free), Thomas O'Reilly and Darragh Campion (after a chance for a Meath goal).

Despite this Royal revival, Kerry's forwards remained in lethal form (they took their five opening points from just five chances) and were almost in for a first goal when Paul Murphy played in Paul Geaney. Geaney, from an acute angle, was just wide with his effort.

A minute later, however, and there was no Royal reprieve with Geaney this time turned provider for his fellow west Kerry man Brian Ó Beaglaoich, who skipped past Séamus Lavin before planting to the back of Marcus Brennan's net.

Curiously the goal seemed to cause Kerry to relax a touch, allowing Meath a foothold back in the game. First a point by the impressive Bryan McMahon and then that Campion goal - scored after Shane McEntee collected the kick-out following McMahon's point, before feeding to Cillian O'Sullivan (a real livewire), who in turn found Campion off his shoulder.

Meath now led - 1-6 to 1-5 - and, while the goal lit a fire under Kerry who soon regained their lead following an O'Shea free and a Geaney point, Meath were more than competitive from there to the end of the half.

Even when Kerry had opened out a three point lead coming up to half-time - 1-10 to 1-7 - Meath were able to rally to take the final two scores of the half through full-forward Walsh and wing-forward Ethan Devine, 1-10 to 1-9 at the break.

Meath were clearly buoyed by what had transpired in the first half and started the second half impressively with a point from Walsh. Kerry though had begun to really up their work-rate, with Dara Moynihan into the side in place of Micheál Burns just before half-time.

With Kerry's increased work-rate, Meath's hold on the game began to wane as time and space and chances dried up for the Royals. When Kerry bagged their second goal of the game - a brilliant outside of the boot finish from an acute angle by O'Shea cutting in from the right - it was hard to see a way back for Meath.

True enough there was only three points in it - 2-10 to 1-10 - and just two points after a Walsh free, but Kerry were putting their shoulder to the wheel in a major way. In the final twenty minutes Meath secured just another two points and Kerry an additional eight. That's impressive stuff.

Not even a couple of black cards - from Gavin White and Stephen O'Brien - could disrupt Kerry's momentum, it anything they might have even helped, Keane was always going to shuffle the pack at that stage in the match anyway.

It wasn't a perfect performance, but by the same token you couldn't have asked for much more either. Not with David Clifford out of the side, nursing a back-strain. Of course, a much (much) bigger test awaits this weekend, but Navan served its purpose quite nicely.

The Kingdom marches on.

Meath: Marcus Brennan, Séamus Lavin, Conor McGill, Shane Gallagher, Donal Keogan, Pádraic Harnan, Gavin McCoy, Bryan Menton (0-1), Shane McEntee, Ethan Devine (0-1), Byran McMahon (0-3), Darragh Campion (1-1), Cillian O'Sullivan, Shane Walsh (0-6, 3f), Thomas O'Reilly (0-1) Subs: Thomas McGovern for S McEntee (inj), 23, Ross Ryan for G McCoy, 45, James Conlan for T O'Reilly, 50, Michael Burke for E Devine, 63, Seán Tobin for B McMahon, 66 Black Card: Niall Kane for T McGovern, 52

Kerry: Shane Ryan, Jason Foley, Tadhg Morley, Tom O'Sullivan (0-1), Gavin Crowley, Paul Murphy, Brian Ó Beaglaoich (1-1), David Moran (0-2), Adrian Spillane, Gavin White, Seán O'Shea (1-8, 4f), Stephen O'Brien (0-1), Micheál Burns, Paul Geaney (0-2), Killian Spillane (0-3) Subs: Dara Moynihan for M Burns, 30, Tommy Walsh for G Crowley (inj), 39, Jack Sherwood for A Spillane, 45, Jack Barry for K Spillane, 67 Black Cards: Shane Enright for G White, 44, Jonathan Lyne for S O'Brien, 51

Referee: Chris Mooney (Dublin)

The game in 60 seconds

Main man

You could make a case for Paul Murphy who was really good in the first half when Kerry were under a bit of pressure, but we can't look beyond Seán O'Shea who took up the slack in David Clifford's absence and ran the show for the Kerry forwards. Scored 1-8, 1-4 from play. Enough said.

Talking Point

Navan on Saturday evening was a fine venue for the match and with just 9,300 in attendance generated a really good atmosphere, which again raises questions as to why we play so many of our games in Croke Park. Provincial venues are the way to go we would argue.

Key moment

Almost certainly Seán O'Shea's forty second minute goal - after that there was no way back into the game for Meath as Kerry began to get a strangehold on their in the middle third. That it was a goal of the absolute top quality only adds to that sense.