Paul Geaney scored 1-04 to help Kerry defeat Westmeath by 2-15 to 0-13 in Mullingar, condemning Paul Bealin’s side to relegation from the Allianz Football League Division 1A in the process.
In a continuation of a worrying trend from Westmeath’s perspective, their impressive first-half display gave way to a poor showing after the break, as they were outscored 1-09 to 0-04
The key moment came in the 45th minute when Geaney profited from James O’Donoghue’s unselfish pass to fire an unstoppable shot past the Westmeath goalkeeper, Stephen Gallagher.
That put Kerry two points clear and from here they never looked back, adding another eight points to complete a comprehensive victory.
And yet when Westmeath reflect on this defeat, there will be a sense of regret. Not only had they edged in front shortly after the break, following Conor McCormack’s excellent point from play, but they had also managed to impose their game-plan on Kerry during the first half.
Then, Paul Sharry’s foraging runs from centre-back went unchecked but Kerry’s manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice showed his ruthless streak at half-time, removing Bryan Sheehan from the play and introducing Daithi Casey in his place.
Thereafter, Sharry’s influence dwindled and Westmeath – as a result – had less joy going forward. Significantly, John Heslin’s absence was felt right through this game and with Dessie Dolan, their other talisman, failing to trouble the scorers, the hosts were clearly in trouble.
In the 45th minute Westmeath fluffed two opportunities to clear the ball and Kerry penalised them immediately, O’Donoghue supplying Geaney with the opportunity to get Kerry’s second goal.
The tide changed with the goal. Westmeath managed to score just three points thereafter, whereas Kerry kept the scoreboard ticking over, O’Donoghue and Geaney sharing the next three between them before McCormack replied for the Midlanders.
Yet that score offered little respite. Another free from O’Donoghue preceded further substitutions from Fitzmaurice and with a fresh Darran O’Sullivan and Donnchadh Walsh on the park, Kerry’s extra fitness began to tell.
They finished the game at a canter, Walsh, O’Donoghue, Stephen O’Brien and David Moran all scoring whereas Westmeath relied on Sharry and Ray Connellan for their solitary scores in this timeframe.
And so Bealin’s men posted a sixth successive defeat in this troubled season. Yet, they have some positives to cling to, namely the spirit they showed in the first half when they kept pace with Kerry, had Sharry emerge as the half’s best player and utilised Ger Egan effectively as a sweeper.
His positioning helped their full-back line – who enjoyed a ferocious battle with O’Brien, Geaney and O’Donoghue – and who appeared to winning that particular fight until O’Brien and Geaney exchanged a pair of slick passes in the 24th minute prior to spreading the play to Kieran O’Leary, who fisted the ball to the net.
That put three points between the sides. In response, Westmeath showed impressive character, scoring five of the next six scores. But when Fitzmaurice altered Kerry’s line-up and when the Kingdom cranked up the gears, the difference in class told. They now have one eye on the semi-finals whereas Westmeath just have a dead rubber against Kildare to look forward to.
Westmeath: S Gallagher; K Maguire, K Gavin, S Gilmore; Damien Dolan, P Sharry (0-01, ’45), D Harte; D Duffy, R Connellan( 0-02, 0-02f); C McCormack (0-03), G Egan (0-02, 0-02f), K Martin (0-02); J Dolan, Dessie Dolan, D Glennon (0-03)
Substitutes: J Egan for Damien Dolan (48 mins), D McCormack for K Martin (56 mins), A Giles for D Glennon (56 mins), R Foley for D Harte (59 mins), K Daly for D Duffy (70 mins).
Kerry: B Kelly; P Murphy, M Griffin, S Enright; P Crowley (0-01), F Fitzgerald, M O’Se; J Buckley, D Moran (0-01); J Lyne, B Sheehan (0-02, 0-02f), K O’Leary (1-00; S O’Brien (0-01), P Geaney (1-04, 0-02f), J O’Donoghue (0-05, 0-03f)
Substitutes: D Walsh (0-01) for J Lyne (31 mins), D Casey for B Sheehan (35 mins), A Maher for J Buckley (50 mins), Darran O’Sullivan for K O’Leary (50 mins), A O’Mahony for P Crowley (63 mins), J Sherwood for M O’Se (63 mins).