Waterford took a massive step towards the TG4 Munster SFC final as Eimear Fennell’s first-half goal helped them to victory after a pulsating encounter at Cusack Park.
Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh bagged a goal in each half and had a late penalty brilliantly saved by Rosie Landers, but a run of seven unanswered points after the break meant Waterford had enough for the win.
Six days on from the Lidl NFL Division 2 final meeting between the sides, there was no defensive set-up on show for Kerry despite conceding five goals in that game, and instead they looked the better team early on.
And after Sarah Houlihan started the scoring with a free from the right, some smart interplay from Ní Mhuircheartaigh saw her pulled down and the penalty was awarded. Waterford defender Kate McGrath was sin-binned for the foul, and Ní Mhuircheartaigh converted the penalty to put her side 1-1 to 0-0 ahead after 11 minutes.
While Waterford thrived in front of goal last week, they had their struggles in the first-half in Ennis, and they accumulated seven wides by the break. But while they were reduced to 14 players they launched a strong comeback.
With Eimear Fennell looking dangerous inside the chances continued to flow, and when she forced a turnover close to goal, she carried and fired to the net in the 17th minute for Waterford’s first score.
Fennell levelled matters soon after with a great point, which was laid on by Michelle Ryan, but Kerry didn’t take long to reclaim the lead when Houlihan slotted her second free of the game.
And four minutes from the break, midfielder Emma Murray popped up to hit the levelling point, which meant the sides were tied at 1-2 each at half-time.
While the first-half was largely dominated by Kerry, it was Waterford that bossed the third quarter. Maria Delahunty’s free gave them he lead for the first time a minute after the restart, and Eimear Fennell added to that advantage soon after with a booming point from distance. When Delahunty slotted a free from the ground Waterford had scored four points in a row and led by three.
Chloe Fennell soon got in on the act for Waterford, and Delahunty kicked her first point from play to make it 1-7 to 1-2.
Ryan kicked Waterford’s seventh straight point of the second-half, before Niamh Carmody stopped the rot, and eight minutes from time Ní Mhuircheartaigh hit her second goal, which closed the gap to three.
Three minutes from time Ní Mhuircheartaigh could have levelled matters but her penalty was brilliantly saved by Landers, and after that Waterford held solid to take the win.
Waterford: R Landers; A Mullaney, C McGrath, R Casey; Kate McGrath, Karen McGrath (c), R Tobin (0-01); E Murray (0-01), K Murray (0-01); K Hogan, C Fennell (0-01), M Delahunty (0-03, 2f); E Fennell (1-03), M Ryan (0-01), A Wall (0-01).
Subs: C McCarthy for Mullaney (56), S Dunphy for E Fennell (60).
Kerry: K Cronin; E Lynch, A Desmond, C O’Brien; S Lynch, A O’Connell, M O’Keeffe; L Scanlon, A Brosnan (c); C Murphy, A Galvin, N Carmody (0-01); S Houlihan (0-02, 2f), L Ní Mhuircheartaigh (2-01, 1-00 pen), H O’Donoghue.
Subs: L Coughlan for Desmond (14), E Dineen for O’Keeffe (39), F Tangney for Galvin (47), B Ryan for Brosnan (57), E McGlynn for Houlihan (60).
Referee: Kevin O’Brien (Limerick).