Meath 1-13, Louth 0-10
When all was said and done, and the regret over missed goal chances was parked, the result was fair enough.
Having thrown their shoulder to the defensive wheel for most of the match, David Reilly’s Louth side certainly deserved kudos for their unflinching efforts in this U21 Leinster Championship quarter final replay in Navan on Wednesday night.
It was never going to live up to the heights of the original game in Clan Na Gael Park a week beforehand. In fact the first twenty minutes was as static a match as you could find.
The Royals were more than guilty of squandering a potentially decent lead with their rising wide count. In that first quarter, scores from open play were scarcer than a hen’s molars. By the time Louth had drawn level in the 24th minute, only one point from six had come from play. The rest were straight forward tap-overs from under the posts.
The loss of Sean Thornton at wing back for Louth after just 17 minutes looked like it might have opened the door for the home side initially. They hit two quick points from Bryan McMahon.
But with Ryan Burns deadly accurate at the other end, the Wee County kept it nip and tuck until three minutes to the break.
A more imposing Meath side began pressing on in search of more scores. Their earlier profligacy in front of the posts seemed to spur them on.
A neat interchange of passes allowed Joey wallace to side step to the left of Nathaniel Cooney in the Louth goal and side foot the ball home.
The remaining minutes drained from the half, leaving the home side clutching a deserved three point lead.
With the game looking likely to slip away into the night, David Reilly’s U21 side stepped up in the second half. Although the Royals hit the front early on in the second half thanks to a point from substitute Seamus Mattimoe, Louth flung off the shackles and began hitting the home side on the break. A pair of points from Ryan Burns and another couple from Conor Grimes had Louth back snapping at the heels of a single point Meath lead.
It could have been so much better for Reilly’s battling side during that period. One of Burns’ points was a one-on-one, point blank effort which he snapped off only for it to rise and sail just over the bar. A definite three pointer reduced to just the one.
Barely two minutes later and Glen Emmets star Conor Grimes battered his way into a position to the left of the Meath goal. He swung a boot and side-footed the ball towards the far post. It looked to be heading in, only for the O’Neill’s size five to strike the butt of the post and squirm back across the goal and away from danger. Those moments are crucial.
They popped points at each other for the next seven minutes. A slender home lead the continuing trend.
But with legs buckling under sustained Royal pressure, Louth’s chances of a semi final place against Offaly started to ebb away.
A trio of points from Meath’s Neil Shortall and Seamus Mattimoe killed off the resistance. With just a minute left the home side knew they’d done enough. A four point lead became six in the last few moments.
Tired and worn? certainly. Out on their feet? Maybe. But the pride was there to the very end for Louth. The campaign is over for the Wee County for another year. The players will return to their clubs for the duration of the season. Their time with the County set-up suspended. But with a clutch of the panel still eligible to go again next year, the future’s bright. Twelve months and counting.
Meath: Andy Colgan; Simon Carty, Conor McGill, David McQuillan; Brian Power, Shane Melia, Shane McEntee; Conor Sheridan, Adam Flanagan; Neil Shortall (0-1), Bobby O’Brien, Padraic Harnan; Eamon Wallace, Bryan McMahon (0-6, 4fs), Joey Wallace (1-0). Subs - Seamus Mattimoe (0-5, 2fs) for Eamon Wallace, Harry Rooney for Sheridan, Cathal Finn for Power, Barry Dardis (0-1) for J Wallace.
Louth: Nathaniel Cooney; Eoghan Lafferty, Dermot Campbell, Kieran Lenaghan; Darren McMahon, Robert Brodigan, Sean Thornton; Patrick Reilly, Wayne Campbell; Robert Quigley, James Stewart, Conall McKeever; Cian Doyle (0-1), Conor Grimes (0-3), Ryan Burns (0-6,5fs). Subs - Robert Curran for Thornton, Ciaran Ward for Brodigan black card), Robert Carr for McKeever, Kevin Hearty for Doyle.