Meath hordes tear down Kingdom

There's unlikely to be big consumer demand in Kerry for the fetching new jerseys worn by the county footballers yesterday

There's unlikely to be big consumer demand in Kerry for the fetching new jerseys worn by the county footballers yesterday. The gulf between the sides rather than the similarity of their colours became the more pressing problem for the All-Ireland champions as their predecessors ate them without salt in this extraordinary Bank of Ireland football semi-final at Croke Park.

Long before half-time Kerry had been entangled in the razor wire of their opponents' unforgiving ambitions. The deposed champions have enough quality footballers to recapture their titles but there was a heavy sense of the epochal as the most successful county of the modern age went head-to-head with the old aristocracy and destroyed them.

The whole match had an air of the surreal. It wasn't a fair reflection of the teams' respective capabilities but that Kerry should prove so lifeless in the face of what was presumably an anticipated onslaught suggested that the past 12 months had taken an enormous amount out of the champions. Two replays and all that surviving on their nerves a year ago combined with the difficulty encountered in putting away Dublin all falls into a sort of retrospective context.

From the start yesterday Kerry were flat and unable to meet the challenge. And what a challenge it was. Throughout his 19 years in charge of Meath, Sean Boylan has consistently sent out teams that did themselves more than justice on big days. Last year's flat line against Offaly was one of the exceptions but even then, those 12 months of enforced idleness clearly left the Leinster champions hungry as prairie dogs.


All of the expected pivotal clashes around the field went Meath's way. In the battle of the highly-rated full forward lines, the balance tilted so decisively that the Leinster champions didn't even have to reach for plan B. Mark O'Reilly took John Crowley's season of deadly accomplishment and left it strewn in tatters, at one stage even winning a ball in the air despite his height disadvantage.

In fairness to the Glenflesk corner forward, he rarely got serviceable ball and apart from a gutsy point before half-time he was unable to kick-start his game.

If Meath never had recourse to plan B, Kerry just didn't seem to have any plan. They were stricken by the loss of three wing backs: Tomβs ╙ SΘ was suspended and his replacement, Mike Hassett, and Tom O'Sullivan had to leave injured before the first half was over. Even by then, however, the trend was hardening against the champions.

With O'Reilly sticking to Crowley and Cormac Murphy battling with unexpected success against Michael Russell, Kerry's big guns were spiked. In the middle, Darren Fay had a magnificent match, seeing off several opponents and dominating so comprehensively in the second half that he was hardly challenged under - let alone beaten to - a single ball.

At the far end it was a different story. One of the strongest characteristics of the Ollie Murphy-Graham Geraghty combination, according to as shrewd a judge of Meath football as Matt Kerrigan, is the pair's unshakeable self-belief. They aren't fazed by losing ball, even 50-50 ball, because they know - in the improbable vernacular of Mills and Boon - that every now and then the right one will come along.

In the first half Seamus Moynihan and Michael McCarthy won a number of outstanding possessions yet Murphy kicked three points from play and the first ball that suited Geraghty, he was gone like a shot and drew a good save from Declan O'Keeffe.

It was expected that between the 40s, Meath would have an edge but not that they would swamp Kerry. With John McDermott asserting himself here and showing remarkable stamina in roaming the field, the champions had no answers in the battle cockpit.

The fluid mobility with which Meath get numbers back or into attack alternately frustrated Kerry and cut them to ribbons. In the early stages the winners didn't look entirely at ease with the swathes they were slicing through the middle of their opponents' defence. More than once, players fouled the ball or seemed daunted by the competing options of possible goals and certain points.

Eventually they realised that it was really happening for them and started to take the points. Evan Kelly had a marvellous first half, covering back and bursting forward, making the explosive penetrations that were ultimately to overwhelm Kerry.

On a day when they needed to be twice as forceful as usual, the champions' half forwards weren't able to raise their game at all.

There was a good bit of switching but nothing loosened the stranglehold that Meath had taken on the game.

On 35 minutes, the first major incision was made. Hank Traynor - one of a splendid half-back line with Donal Curtis and especially Nigel Nestor who swarmed around their opponents and then into attack in almost ceaseless motion - carried the ball up to Kelly. His short kick found Murphy, whose quick transfer sent Geraghty in on goal. He drew the last defender and placed McDermott, who finished to the net.

There was a brief flurry from Kerry to cut the margin to five at half-time, just about enough to convince the optimistic that it wasn't quite all over yet. But the truth was that had Meath not wasted good goal chances they would have been out of sight.

The match was formally put to bed by a relentless blast of six unanswered points just after half-time as Trevor Giles moved out of the shadows of a quiet first half. Kerry managed a single point in the entire second period, from substitute Declan Quill in the 63rd minute. By the end of the third quarter, Kerry had fielded all five replacements but their last cards were played to no improved effect.

It's not just that Meath don't lose big leads. They protect and extend them when on top - as Offaly found within a couple of weeks of their League title three years ago. Murphy was careless in stepping into the square; otherwise there would have been another goal in the 45th minute. It came in the end when substitute John Cullinane got onto a breaking ball from a free in the 66th minute.

The remaining action saw Eamon Fitzmaurice get the line for a second yellow card for a foul on the rampant Geraghty and Murphy kick the resulting free. By then, Kerry fans had been leaving for fully 20 minutes. They know their football down there.

The All-Ireland under-21 hurling final on September 16th has been moved from Nowlan Park, Kilkenny, to Thurles. There had been criticism of the original choice of venue, given the 28,000-plus crowd expected for the Limerick-Wexford decider. Nowlan Park can hold only 23,000.