Kerry take care of business despite Clifford missing out with back spasm
Kerry 2-18 Meath 1-13
Páirc Tailteann hadn't quite emptied out but the Kerry team bus was already gone. With eight days until their All-Ireland semi-final, there was no time to be wasted.
They had taken care of business in Navan. Coming into the game they knew a draw would have been enough. In the end they left nothing to chance and stretched for home to take an eight-point win that secured top spot in the group and crucially an extra day to prepare for an All-Ireland semi-final.
The only blot on the Kerry copy book was the absence of star man David Clifford, who was present in Navan but didn't play due to a back spasm. Kerry management insisted the Fossa man would be ready for next weekend.
"He'll be fine. He'll be fine," manager Peter Keane insisted.
Kerry were warm favourites coming to Navan but they were given a stern examination for the first hour. At half-time, Meath trailed by a point having caused plenty of problems for Kerry. Darragh Campion, making his full championship debut, finished cleverly on 24 minutes to put Meath into a one-point lead after Brian ó Beaglaoich had goaled for the visitors.
Impact Kerry pulled three clear again but the home side kicked the last two scores of the half to ensure there was only the minimum between the teams at half-time (1-10 to 1-9).
Playing against the breeze in the second half, Meath struggled to make the same impact in attack and managed just four points and three wides. At the other end, Seán O'Shea was in supreme form with his goal, which saw him slip his marker with a lovely shimmy of the hips before finishing high to the roof of the net, giving the Kingdom a cushion they'd never surrender.
Despite that the home side were within a goal approaching the hour mark before Kerry took charge, outscoring Meath by 0-6 to 0-1 from there to the finish.
"Meath are a good side, they were unlucky to lose the league final and got to a Leinster final, and they've put up good performances in the Super 8s without getting over the line, so we were expecting a battle either which way," Keane said.
"That was something that we had to rectify at half-time, to get the work-rate up, and, look, we were on the road here yesterday and you're waiting all day for a game, and sometimes that can bring a bit of flatness."
For Meath, it was the end of a 16-game season between league and championship. They exit the Super 8s without a win but with plenty to build on. Young full-forward Shane Walsh only finished his Leaving Cert a few weeks ago but carried plenty of weight for Meath in attack and finished the day with six points. Between Walsh, Campion and Ethan Devine all of whom are 21 or under, they contributed 1-8 of Meath's tally.
"(I have) immense pride really with everybody's effort. I don't think one player you could point a finger at and say he didn't do what he was asked to do, or he certainly didn't try to do what was asked to do there. That's all you can ask for. It's a difficult situation in a lot of ways. Kerry are playing to get into an All-Ireland semi-final. We are playing for the sake of playing and to put up a performance.
"Although it has followed a similar pattern to the last two games. I have absolutely zero complaints about the application of anybody."
As was the case against both Donegal and Mayo, the Royals faded down the home straight
"What is happening, I suppose, no disrespect to anybody, we are playing teams who have been playing at this level a number of years, five, six seven, years, this is our first experience playing strong teams," said McEntee, who insisted it was too soon to talk about whether he would return for a fourth season.
"Every player you come up against is a strong player, strong and athletic players, and that's a constant pounding and pounding and pounding, and we just got to get used to being able to live with that for a little bit longer."
Different "We are in a different place with regards that's our 16th competitive game tonight. If Dublin or Kerry go on and win (their semi-finals), they will play 15 competitive games. I think that's right. That is great for us. The real hard part about last year was we got to play two championship games. This year we got eight. That in itself has us in a totally different place."
It was likely well after midnight before Kerry got home but they have already gone one better than last year. And when asked about the possibility of winning an All-Ireland by Radio Kerry's Tim Moynihan, Keane clearly wanted to keep a lid on things. "I'd say stay calm, Timmy, we've a game next week."
Scorers - Kerry: S O'Shea 1-8 (4f, 1 '45); B Ó Beaglaoich 1-1; K Spillane 0-3; P Geaney, D Moran 0-2 each; T O'Sullivan, S O'Brien 0-1 each. Meath: S Walsh 0-6 (3f); D Campion 1-1; B McMahon 0-3; E Devine, B Menton, T O'Reilly 0-1 each.
Kerry - S Ryan 7; J Foley 6, T Morley 7, T O'Sullivan 7; P Murphy 7, G Crowley 6, B Ó Beaglaoich 8; D Moran 7, A Spillane 7; G White 6, S O'Shea 9, M Burns 6; S O'Brien 6, P Geaney 7, K Spillane 8. Subs: D Moynihan 7 for Burns (31), T Walsh 7 for Crowley (40), S Enright 7 for White (BC 45), J Sherwood 6 for A Spillane (46), J Lyne 6 for O'Brien (BC 52), J Barry for K Spillane (68).
Meath - M Brennan 7; S Lavin 7, C McGill 8, S Gallagher 7; D Keogan 7, P Harnan 6, G McCoy 6; B Menton 7, S McEntee 7; E Devine 7, B McMahon 8, D Campion 8; C O'Sullivan 7, S Walsh 8, T O'Reilly 6. Subs: T McGovern 6 for McEntee (23), R Ryan 6 for McCoy (45), J Conlon 6 for O'Reilly (51), N Kane 6 for McGovern (BC 54), M Burke 6 for Devine (64), S Tobin for McMahon (66).
Ref - F Kelly (Longford)