It was meant to be much easier than this for Kerry, but seldom do they make things so at this stage of the year.
Newly-promoted Meath coming to Killarney was always regarded as a banker win for the Kingdom, and while they did deposit their second win of the campaign in Fitzgerald Stadium this afternoon, it was far from convincing from the home side.
Meath manager Andy McEntee will have to live with a fourth successive top-flight defeat this week, but when gleaning the positives from this game he can certainly look at the character and resolve his players showed throughout.
The Royals made a huge rod for their own back with two players going to the sin-bin in the first half - Cillian O'Sullivan getting a black card in the fifth minute and then Donal Keogan going to the 'bin’ in the 30th minute - but they weathered those 20 minutes with 14 men to keep themselves in contention.
Kerry finished with 13 players on the pitch after black cards for Micheal Burns (70) and Tony Brosnan (75) but Meath’s sin-binnings were certainly more destructive to their hopes of arresting a run of three successive defeats.
Halfway through the first half Kerry found themselves 1-05 to 0-00 ahead – David Clifford’s 14th minute goal seeming to suggest that this could get very ugly very early for the visitors – but Meath thundered back into the contest, outscoring their hosts 1-05 to 0-02 in the next nine minutes.
Paul Geaney, Micheal Burns, Sean O’Shea (two frees) and senior debutant David Shaw had kicked Kerry’s early points, but just after Burns’ 17th minute score put Kerry eight ahead,
Meath responded with points from Cillian O’Sullivan – not long back on the field – and James McEntee, before captain Keogan slammed a fine shot past Brian Kelly in the Kerry goal to cut the deficit to three points.
That gap was down to two when Thomas O’Reillys converted his second free to make it 1-07 to 1-05, but Kerry finished strong, after Keogan’s black card, with points from O’Shea (two frees) and Clifford to leave Kerry 1-10 to 1-05 ahead at the interval.
Scores from O’Reilly (two frees), Oisin O’Brien and James Conlon brought the score back to 1-11 to 1-09 as Meath found some new energy and momentum, with Bryan Menton and Brian Conlon getting an important foothold in the centre of the field.
Dara Moynihan and Tommy Walsh’s arrival from the bench gave Kerry much needed new focus and options in attack, and two points from the former, along with another from the excellent Micheal Burns, moved Kerry into a 1-17 to 1-09 lead and looking comfortable for the win.
Meath had other ideas, and when Bryan McMahon finished the ball past Kelly in the 62nd minute to make it a five-point game Kerry still had work to do.
In the end Kerry just about got it done, with Walsh and Clifford kicking scores to keep Meath at bay, though the Royals did draw a couple of important saves from Kelly as Kerry fell over the winning line.
Kerry: Shane Ryan, Graham O’Sullivan, Tadhg Morley, Tom O’Sullivan, Paul Murphy, Shane Enright, Gavin White, Liam Kearney, Jack Barry, Micheál Burns 0-03, Seán O’Shea 0-06 (all frees), Stephen O’Brien, David Shaw 0-02, David Clifford 1-03 (0-01f), Paul Geaney 0-02.
Subs: Dara Moynihan 0-02 for L Kearney (44), Tommy Walsh 0-01 for D Shaw (49), Tony Brosnan for S O’Brien (61), Diarmuid O’Connor for P Geaney (71)
Meath: Marcus Brennan, Robin Clarke, Conor McGill, David Toner, James McEntee 0-01, Ronan Ryan, Donal Keogan 1-00 , Bryan Menton 0-01, Brian Conlon, Cillian O’Sullivan 0-02 (0-01f), Bryan McMahon 1-00, Ethan Devine, James Conlon 0-02, Thomas O’Reilly 0-06 (0-05f), Oisin O’Brien 0-01.
Subs: Eamon Wallace for E Devine (54), Donal Lenihan for O O’Brien (59), Sean Tobin for J Conlon (59), Gavin McCoy for B Conlon (65), Ross Ryan for R Ryan (67)
Referee: Derek O’Mahony (Tipperary)