by Paul Brennan
There will be a new name on the Brendan Martin Cup this year, and Kerry will hope they can end their famine after they knocked out the back-to-back champions Meath in Tralee.
The reigning TG4 All-Ireland champions went down fighting, closing a 10-point interval deficit to four at the finish, but it is Kerry who will face Mayo in the All-Ireland semi-final in a fortnight after coming through the proverbial game of two halves.
In wind and rain more akin to January than July, Kerry weathered that second half Meath comeback to kill off their hopes of three-in-a-row, but it says much about the conditions and Meath’s resilience, that Kerry scored just a solitary point in the entire second half. But it was enough. Just.
Two goals in the opening half – the first no doubt influenced by the extremely testing wind – helped Kerry to that 10-point lead at the interval, and given the strength of the wind it felt as if the Kingdom would need every bit of that 2-7 to 0-3 lead.
Having lost the 2021 Lidl National League Division 2 final and the 2022 All-Ireland SFC Final to Meath – by 10 and nine points respectively – Kerry didn’t lack motivation to make it third time lucky against the Royals.
Aided by a near gale-force wind, Kerry took an early two-point lead through Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh and Siofra O’Shea, the latter’s booming point from outside the ‘45’ a clear indication of the strength of the wind in the home side’s favour at Austin Stack Park.
Meath, understandably, were finding it extremely difficult to move the ball up the field, through a combination of the elements and the ferocious hard work of the Kerry players, but the visitors did win a couple of frees that the reliable Emma Duggan converted to make it 0-2 apiece after 11 minutes.
Two minutes after that, O’Shea tried her luck again for a long-range point but goalkeeper Monica McGuirk misjudged the flight of the dropping ball, which flew in over her head for a Kerry goal. It was a slice of good fortune the home side might say they deserved, but there was nothing lucky about the next five minutes when Kerry hit the champions for 1-3 without reply.
Ní Mhuircheartaigh converted a free before Niamh Ní Chonchuir landed two points within a minute of each other to make it 1-5 to 0-2. Then, in the 18th minute, Niamh Carmody pounced on the loose ball from a Kerry turnover, with Hannah O’Donoghue and O’Shea transferring the ball back to Carmody for a confident finish past McGuirk to open up a nine-point lead.
Duggan converted her third free, but Lorraine Scanlon and Ní Mhuircheartaigh mined late points to give Kerry that considerable lead at the break, a lead Meath did their level best to close in the second half.
Duggan converted her fourth free in the 32nd minute and Hannah O’Donoghue pointed for Kerry three minutes later, but that would be Kerry’s last score.
Vikki Wall shot two points within two minutes of each other, Duggan converted another free, and when Wall fired over her third point in the 45th minute Kerry’s half time lead was halved to five points, 2-8 to 0-9.
But try as Meath did for the goal they really needed, the Kerry defence was magnificent, Kayleigh Cronin and Cait Lynch in particular repelling a couple of dangerous Meath goal chances.
Ní Mhuircheartaigh could have made the last couple of minutes a little more comfortable but her shot on goal was brilliantly saved by McGuirk, but Kerry held out, taking down the champions and marching into the semi-finals where they will surely carry the favourite’s tag to go all the way and lift their first TG4 All-Ireland title since 1993.
Scorers - Kerry: S O’Shea 1-1, L Ní Mhuircheartaigh 0-3 (1f), N Carmody 1-0, N Ní Chonchuir 0-2, L Scanlon 0-1, H O’Donoghue 0-1.
Meath: E Duggan 0-7 (5f), V Wall 0-3.
KERRY: C Butler; E Lynch, K Cronin, C Murphy; A O’Connell, E Costello, C Lynch; L Scanlon, L Galvin; N Carmody, N Ní Chonchúir, A Galvin; H O’Donoghue, S O’Shea, L Ní Mhuircheartaigh. Subs: D O'Leary for Galvin (37), A Harrington for Ní Chonchuir (48), M O'Connell for Carmody (50), N Broderick for O’Donoghue (56)
MEATH: M McGuirk; A Sheridan, MK Lynch, K Newe; N Gallogly, S Ennis, E Duggan; M O’Shaughnessy, A Minogue; M Thynne, V Wall, O Lally; A Cleary, S Grimes, N O’Sullivan. Subs: M Byrne for Cleary (35), O Mallon for Grimes (40), S Melia for O’Shaughnessy (57).
Referee: Shane Curley (Galway).Tweet