By Fergal Lynch
Kerry's third-quarter burst proved decisive as they secured their Joe McDonagh Cup status with a narrow victory over 14-man Meath in Pairc Tailteann.
Meath were reduced to 14 men in the 29th minute when Alan Douglas picked up a second yellow card, but they were very much in the game, leading 0-8 to 0-6 at half-time.
However after the resumption Kerry pulled away to put themselves in an unassailable position, 0-16 to 0-9 clear.
Meath did launch a late recovery to close the gap to 0-14 to 0-18, but were denied a goal when Jack Regan's close-range free was stopped on the line.
When Joey Keena closed the gap further Meath went close to salvaging a draw deep into injury-time, but Sean Geraghty's flicked effort cleared the crossbar as Kerry survived.
Both sides looked nervous in an error-strewn opening half and scores were difficult to come by with six of the first nine coming from placed balls.
It was Kerry who opened the scoring in the third minute with Shane Conway on target after James O'Connor was fouled, but a minute later Meath were level when Adam Gannon pointed and after Paddy Conneely was fouled he recovered sufficiently to give the hosts the lead for the first time from the resultant free.
A Conway '65' and a disputed point from Jack Goulding which the umpire didn't raise his flag for restored Kerry's lead, 0-3 to 0-2.
Conneely restored parity before Douglas picked up his first yellow card for a high tackle on Mikey Boyle in the 18th minute. Goalkeeper Martin Stackpoole converted the free from his own 65-metre line to level it up for the fourth time and that trend continued with Conneely (free) and Bryan Murphy, from inside his own 45-metre line, trading scores.
A massive score from Conneely was followed by an equally impressive sccore from Keith Keoghan as Meath opened up a two-point lead, 0-7 to 0-5, for the first time, but then Douglas saw red when he picked up a second yellow after a high shoulder challenge on John Buckley to leave Meath down to 14 men after just 28 minutes.
The Meath response to that setback was to pull three points clear with James Kelly lofting over, but Kerry pulled one back before the break through Brendan O'Leary to close the gap to 0-6 to 0-8 at half-time.
However after the resumption Kerry pulled clear with points from Padraig Boyle (four), Shane Conway (two), Brandon Barrett (two), Daniel Collins and Mikey Boyle moving them 0-16 to 0-9 clear.
Meath eventually settled and hit five of the next six scores with Conneely (three, two frees), Keena and Regan making it 0-14 to 0-17.
Conway ensured Meath had to go for goal late on with his sixth point and second from a free and while Regan and Geraghty both went close it was Kerry who survived to preserve their Joe McDonagh Cup status.
Scorers - Kerry: Shane Conway (0-6 two frees, two '65s'), Padraig Boyle (0-4), Martin Stackpoole (0-1 free), Bryan Murphy (0-1), Brandon Barrett (0-2), Daniel Collins (0-1), Brendan O'Leary (0-1), Mikey Boyle (0-1), Jack Goulding (0-1)
Meath: Paddy Conneely (0-6 three frees), Joey Keena (0-2), Keith Keoghan (0-2), James Kelly (0-1), Adam Gannon (0-2),
Kerry: Martin Stackpoole; Sean Weir, John Buckley, Bryan Murphy; Brandon Barrett, Daniel Collins, James O'Connor; Jordan Conway, Brendan O'Leary; Daithi Griffin, Mikey Boyle, Barry O'Mahonys; Jack Goulding, Padraig Boyle, Shane Conway.
Subs: Shane Nolan for Griffin (49 mins), Daniel O'Carroll for Goulding (59 mins), Tom Murnane for Weir (64 mins), Maurice O'Connor for Conway (66 mins), Stephen Leane for J O'Connor (73 mins).
Meath: Shane McGann; Shane Brennan, Sean Geraghty, Darragh Kelly; Joey Keena, Damien Healy, Keith Keoghan; Gavin McGowan, Alan Douglas; Cathal McCabe, James Kelly, Paddy Conneely; Stephen Morris, Adam Gannon, David Conneely.
Subs: Neil Heffernan for McGowan (49 mins), Jack Regan (0-1) for Healy (53 mins), Sean Quigley for J Kelly (55 mins), James Toher for McCabe (59 mins), Colm O Mealoid for Gannon (64 mins).
Referee: Shane Hynes (Galway).