O'Shea inspires Kerry as Meath boss McEntee reflects on year of positives
Kerry 2-18 Meath 1-13
KERRY expect to have David Clifford available for next Sunday's All-Ireland semi final after he sat out Saturday's win over Meath at Navan.
In his absence Seán O'Shea inspired Kerry to their second win in the group, as they finished the Super 8s series unbeaten. A place in the semi finals, which they missed out on last year for only the third since 2000, is their reward in Croke Park on Sunday next.
O'Shea scored 1-8, 1-3 from play, the highlight being a blistering strike that shook the Meath net in the 42nd minute when the teams were level at 1-10 a piece.
He took a Paul Murphy pass on the right side of the field, outfoxing Gavin McCoy, who lost his footing, leaving O'Shea with an open path to goal. Faced with a narrow angle he unleashed a powerful strike past the Meath veteran goalkeeper, Marcus Brennan, a surprise call-up.
Meath were a match for Kerry for much of the game, before being outscored 0-6 to 0-1 in the final 16 minutes that included six minutes of stoppage time.
At half time Kerry led by just a point, 1-10 to 1-9, and Bryan McMahon's third point near the hour had Meath within a goal of the favourites.
"This has taken us three years to get to here," said the home team's manager Andy McEntee after a season in which Meath won promotion to Division 1, reached a first Leinster final in five years and qualified for the Super 8s for the first time.
"I suppose the biggest and most obvious learning part has taken place in the last year. And you'd have to take positives out of it. I mean ultimately we were out of this competition going in today's game but it was hugely important that we put in performance that we could stand over and I think we did that today.
"No matter what journey you're on it's that last couple of steps that tend to be the hardest. We have a lot of work to do. This group of players has already done a lot of work but there's more to be done if we want to be really competing at this level."
Lack of firepower proved Meath's undoing. They started without the injured Michael Newman although all their forwards scored from play with the exception of Cillian O'Sullivan who had an excellent match roving out the field and initiating attacks.
He set up their first half goal in the 23rd minute, when putting through Darragh Campion, who showed impressive composure in biding his time before firing to the net with Kerry over-stretched.
The goal gave Meath the lead for a short period of time. Teenager Shane Walsh, like the lively McMahon, scored three points from play and Thomas O'Reilly also had some important contributions.
But Meath, as they had in their earlier matches, tired as then match wore on and the threat to Kerry's defence began to peter out.
"We pushed on a bit in the second half, and we got some fresh legs into the field too which was a big factor as the game was developing.
"Look, we're happy. I suppose we came into here today, a lot of people felt it was a dead rubber coming in," said Peter Keane, the Kerry manager, who has guided Kerry back to within one match of an All-Ireland final.
"If you look at it, we had a lot of opportunities and just didn't take them. Sometimes, it takes energy out of you. Takes your confidence away. Credit to the lads they kept at it and they kept shooting, and we got our rewards in the end."
Kerry and Meath hadn't met in the championship since 2009 and the visitors went into the match in the most advantageous position of the three remaining contenders for two All-Ireland semi final placings. But there was still a risk of them not making it if they lost and Donegal won.
Meath didn't show any inclination to make it easy for them. They were a point down at half time, 1-9 to 1-10, and Kerry realised they needed to improve.
They kicked some glorious points in the first half, two in particular from O'Shea, and should have had a goal when Paul Geaney went around Conor McGill but dragged his shot badly wide.
But they had the ball in the net shortly afterwards when Kerry turned over Meath as they worked a short kick out and Geaney played in Brian O Beaglaoich who beat Brennan in the home team's goal. Sixteen minutes in, the goal left Kerry holding a 1-5 to 0-5 lead.
SCORERS - Kerry: S O'Shea 1-8 (0-4f, 0-1 '45'), B O Beaglaoich 1-1, K Spillane 0-3, P Geaney, D Moran 0-2 each, T O'Sullivan, S O'Brien 0-1. Meath: S Walsh 0-6 (0-3f), D Campion 1-1, B McMahon 0-3, T O'Reilly, E Devine, B Menton 0-1 each.
KERRY: S Ryan; J Foley, T Morley, T O'Sullivan; P Murphy, G Crowley, B O Beagaoich; D Moran, A Spillane; G White, S O'Shea, M Burns; K Spillane, P Geaney, S O'Brien. Subs: D Moynihan for Burns (32), T Walsh for Crowley (40), S Enright for White (bc, 45), J Sherwood for A Spillane (46), J Lyne for O'Brien (bc, 51), J Barry for K Spillane (67).
MEATH: M Brennan; S Lavin, C McGill, S Gallagher; D Keogan, P Harnan, G McCoy; B Fenton, S McEntee; E Devine, B McMahon, D Campion; C O'Sullivan, S Walsh, T O'Reilly. Subs: T McGovern for McEntee (23), R Ryan for McCoy (45), J Conlon for O'Reilly (51), N Kane for McGovern (bc, 54), M Burke for Devine (64), S Tobin for McMahon (66).
REF: F Kelly (Longford).