Kingdom get the job done despite less-than-regal display

 

ALL-IRELAND SFC SEMI-FINAL Kerry 2-8 Meath 1-7: SEMI-FINALS ARE for winning. If that was the summit of Kerry’s ambition yesterday, Jack O’Connor and his players will be happy enough.

This, however, was a scrappy and poor-quality match, which placed the progress of both teams in a less flattering context than that suggested by their quarter-final performances.

As widely predicted, Kerry were never in trouble, even if they huffed and puffed and the final scoreline failed to reflect the scale of their superiority. Persistent drizzle on the Croke Park pitch made conditions treacherous for both sides and partly explained why they amassed 16 wides each.

They were considerably assisted by Meath’s capacity for errors, which gifted numerous scores, and squandered a lot of possession.

O’Connor may well be happier to have lowered expectations going into next month’s final against Cork but he will equally know that a significant improvement is necessary if Kerry are to exercise the customary dominion over their neighbours at All-Ireland level.

Still, they have moved within one match of a fourth title in six years and equalled the record of six successive All-Ireland appearances set by Wexford in 1913-18 and Dublin between 1974 and ’79.

To be fair to Kerry, conditions militated against the explosive running style that had eviscerated Dublin in the quarter-finals and didn’t even help the implementation of Plan B, given how hard it was for bigger players to hold their footing and get up for high ball.

But the high ball did significant damage to Meath after the introduction of the out-of-favour Tommy Walsh after less than half an hour.

The big Tralee youngster was able to take important scores, including just after the restart, the decisive goal that wiped out any hopes Meath had of a comeback after their strong finish to the first half.

Fortune didn’t help the underdogs any more than they helped themselves. Despite rumours that Colm Cooper would be unable to play because of a hip injury, the Dr Croke’s corner forward took his place and played an important role in the opening exchanges.

Instead it was Meath’s most established forward and captain Stephen Bray, who had missed the quarter-final win over Mayo because of suspension, who played virtually no part in the match.

An early collision injured his collar bone and he had to be replaced in the eighth minute.

By this stage the Leinster qualifiers were a goal down. Full back Anthony Moyles was adjudged to have toppled Cooper in the fourth minute – as he was heading away from goal – and a penalty was awarded. Kerry captain Darran O’Sullivan slipped on his run-up but his mishit kick found the net.

A few minutes later Joe Sheridan’s ill-directed pass was cut out by Paul Galvin, the most dynamic of the Kerry forwards in the first half, and he teed up Cooper for a point.

In the 19th minute, after Declan O’Sullivan appeared to foul Moyles before getting off a shot that Paddy O’Rourke – in one of his few happy interventions on the day – saved, Darran O’Sullivan pointed the rebound.

At this stage the match was an undistinguished sequence of insipid forward play and inaccurate kicking. Maybe it was the conditions but half of Meath’s 10 first-half wides were the result of poorly placed passes rather than shots on goal.

Sheridan threatened in the first half with a couple of good runs but fumbled a goal chance after David Bray had broken inside and chipped the ball in his direction. Overall, Tommy Griffin coped well with the big Seneschalstown forward, who even when he tried to flick down possession found that his colleagues weren’t in support.

Cian Ward delivered on his dead-ball duties, including two fine points from line balls, and finished well for a late goal, set up by Sheridan, but overall, Meath didn’t pose a great threat and managed just three scores from play.

Brian Farrell, who had a tempestuous battle with Marc Ó Sé that included his being rushed and pushed over by a number of Kerry players in the first half, showed for ball but never struck fear into the opposition.

Neither were Kerry in vintage scoring form. The full-forward line of Cooper, Darran and Declan O’Sullivan, played an orthodox formation but produced just two points from play between them.

Ironically it was the Meath defence, expected to be the most stressed sector of the field, that most exceeded expectation, even if avoidance of annihilation owed something to Kerry’s lacklustre display.

If O’Connor must have been happy with Tommy Walsh’s injection of a belated scoring threat on his introduction, he will also have been heartened by the display of the player he brought in instead of Walsh. Tadhg Kennelly was busy and kicked two good points from play.

Kerry’s centrefield wasn’t inordinately pressurised and Meath must have been disappointed to see Nigel Crawford, who had been in inspiring form, eventually go off.

Leading 1-3 to 0-4 at half-time, Kerry put the match away within a minute of the restart. Kennelly hoisted a dropping ball down on the square and Walsh cleaned out Moyles before finishing clinically for the team’s second goal.

For the rest of the match Meath were chasing from a distance. Whatever purchase they got in opposition territory proved difficult to turn into scores. Kerry were sharp at the back.

Marc Ó Sé and Michael McCarthy, who maintained the startling trajectory of his comeback to duty after two years, both put in excellent blocks on Farrell and Ward.

But there was no substantial threat.

The lead fluctuated between five and eight points once Walsh had scored the goal. Kerry only needed to kick one point in the entire final quarter and still their position wasn’t threatened.

Diarmuid Murphy saved well from Sheridan in the dying minutes and by the time Ward finished nicely for his goal in injury-time in truth the only effect was to flatter Meath in the final scoreline.