By Paul Brennan
Kerry will face champions Dublin in the quarter-finals of the TG4 Ladies All-Ireland SFC after they qualified for the knockout stages of the competition after a tough and tense contest at Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney.
Both teams knew exactly what was required coming into this game —Westmeath had to win, a draw would be good enough for Kerry — and that do-or-die scenario certainly gave a real championship bite to this Group 3 game.
Kerry captain Amanda Brosnan pointed Kerry into the lead in the first minute but it was a false dawn of sorts for the home side as Westmeath dominated the next 15 minutes.
Kelly Boyce Jordan, named in the defence but playing in a very advanced role for the visitors, struck for a goal in the second minute. Anna Jones pointed in the next minute to put Westmeath three ahead and Kerry got a let-off when Boyce Jordan saw her shot crash back off the crossbar.
Leanne Slevin converted the first of three first half frees to edge Westmeath four clear, but Kerry did offer a threat when they got the ball across the halfway line, though they just couldn't convert those few early chances.
Emma Dineen brought a good save from Westmeath goalkeeper Leanne McCormack at the expense of a '45' in the ninth minute, before Anna Galvin kicked Kerry's second point in the 12th minute.
Slevin converted two frees to put the visitors 1-4 to 0-2 ahead before Kerry finally started to come to life with Lorraine Scanlon working hard in midfield and Galvin, Dineen and Sarah Houlihan offering plenty of threat in the attack.
In the 17th minute Hannah O'Donoghue struck for a Kerry goal, despite McCormack getting a hand on the ball, and by the 21st minute Kerry were back on level terms, after Galvin and Dineen converted fine points.
Kerry lost midfielder Kayleigh Cronin to injury but they kicked on regardless, with points from Scanlon and Galvin ensuring Kerry led 1-6 to 1-4 at the interval.
The second half was just as fiercely contested as the first, and early scores from Dineen, Houlihan and substitute Louise Ni Mhuireachtaigh put Kerry 1-9 to 1-5 ahead by the 38th minute.
Slevin then converted three frees in as many minutes to bring Westmeath back to within a point but their obvious lack of another scoring forward cost them dear. Indeed, the Kerry defence really got to grips with their opponents right through the second half.
Points from Brosnan, Ni Mhuireachtaigh and a Sarah Houlihan free saw Kerry open up a four-point lead, but Westmeath were tenacious.
With Kerry's Scanlon in the sin-bin from the 51st minute, Slevin and sub Grace Halligan pointed from play to bring Westmeath to within two points but Kerry held on to book a quarter-final spot against Dublin.
Westmeath, meanwhile, will have a relegation play-off to deal with.
Scorers — Kerry: A Galvin 0-3, H O'Donoghue 1-0, E Dineen 0-2, A Brosnan 0-2, L Ni Mhuireachtaigh 0-2, S Houlihan 0-2 (2f), L Scanlon 0-1. Westmeath: L Slevin 0-8 (7f), K Boyce Jordan 1-0, A Jones 0-1, G Halligan 0-1.
KERRY: L Fitzgerald; A O'Reilly, E Lynch, J O'Sullivan; A O'Connell, T Breen, C Murphy; L Scanlon, K Cronin; A Brosnan, A Galvin, E Dineen; S Houlihan, S O'Shea, H O'Donoghue. Subs: N Carmody for K Cronin (20), L Ni Mhuireachtaigh for O'Donoghue (37), C O'Brien for O'Reilly (39), D O'Leary for Dineen (54), M O'Keeffe for Galvin (61),
WESTMEATH: L McCormack; R Dillon, J Rogers, L Power; K Boyce Jordan, K McDermott, F Coyle; J Maher, M A Foley; S Dolan, A Jones, A Dolan; L Slevin, F Claffey, V Carr. Subs: K Hegarty for Jones (41), G Halligan for S Dolan (41), A Ruane for A Dolan (60).
Ref — Garryowen McMahon (Mayo).Tweet