Fast-finishing Meath ease the pressure
IT may not be a do-or-die scenario in the final-round Division 2 game against Louth after all - for Meath at least - as the Royals picked up two precious points on their travels last Saturday night.
The victory helped them leapfrog the O'Moore county and more crucially put distance between themselves and the bottom two, Louth and Galway, with two rounds remaining.
Mick O'Dowd men were still reeling from the news that exciting attacker Eamon Wallace will miss the rest of the season, after the knee injury picked up in the U-21 game against the Wee County was diagnosed as cruciate ligament damage.
And their prospects of continuing the form shown the previous week against Donegal didn't seem healthy as Laois enjoyed a five-point cushion at the break, 1-7 to 0-5.
Meath looked in some bother at that stage, especially as Laois had taken control of proceedings to reel off six successive points, and the midlanders then responded to a trio of Meath scores by finishing the half boosted by a penalty goal and then a point.
However the resolve and determination that was absent in the defeats to Monaghan and Armagh was very much evident throughout the second half as Meath shifted up the intensity levels. They restricted the hosts to just three second-half points and shot some great scores themselves on their way to a merited victory.
Corner forward Mickey Newman claimed the scoring honours with six points, which included two from 45s, while midfielder Shane O'Rourke ended with a fine return of four points, all from play.
Crucially, though, Meath were again an extremely tight unit in defence, with Donal Keogan a pivotal figure manning the centre half spot. Damien Carroll had another impressive outing in his new role, while Kevin Reilly was commanding on the edge of the square.
Midfielder O'Rourke had his best game yet following his return from his long lay-off and overall Meath performed admirably around the middle against the highly rated John O'Loughlin and Kevin Meaney.
It was O'Rourke who opened the scoring after six minutes and Meath seemed to have settled into the match after Andrew Tormey hit a second point following good work between Stephen Bray and Bryan McMahon.
Laois, though, soon found their feet, as well as a rich vein of scoring form, after Ross Munnelly got them off the mark from a free on nine minutes. Wing back Darren Strong, Donie Kingston (two) and Gary Walsh followed up with further points and by the beginning of the second quarter they had built up a 0-6 to 0-2 advantage.
It should have been more, but Kingston kicked a free wide of the target before Dalton McDonagh forced a fine save from keeper Graham Brody at the other end at the expense of a '45 which Newman converted.
O'Rourke then popped over his second point, and with Newman unerring from placed balls the deficit was down to the minimum, 0-6 to 0-5, by the 32nd minute.
The hosts had the advantage of the breeze in that opening half and at that stage Meath must have been content with their position. However after Newman was caught in possession, Laois went on the counter attack, resulting in a penalty from which Munnelly made no mistake.
The same player then added a point to put a completely different complexion on proceedings for the second half.
It proved a challenge that the Meath men were more than equal to, though, and they made their intentions know within minutes of the restart with O'Rourke shooting over from long range before Newman converted another free to leave it 1-7 to 0-7.
Meath continued to build on that promising start to the second half as a foul on Stephen Bray resulted in another point for Newman and then O'Rourke took his tally to four to leave it a one-point game once more.
The second half was 10 minutes old before Kingston got his side off the mark again with a point, but Laois were beginning to loosen their grip on the tie and their shooting was also becoming more erratic.
David Conway and Kingston both missed opportunities after Bryan McMahon had pointed for the visitors and the longer the game went on the more dominant Meath became. Eventually Newman drew the sides level and then pointed his side into the lead at a crucial stage. Substitute Evan O'Carroll equalised within 90 seconds of his introduction and another sub, MJ Tierney, had an opportunity to restore his side's lead but shot wide.
Graham Reilly had a chance of a score for Meath, but his effort was blocked down - only for David Bray to pick up the scraps and kick the lead point.
Newman should have doubled that advantage but was off target from another free, while Paddy O'Rourke was forced into a fine save before Bryan Menton lifted the siege with another Meath point.
The game was well into added time when Graham Reilly left three points between the teams before Laois replied with their last point.
MEATH: P O'Rourke; E Harrington, K Reilly, M Burke; S Curran, D Keogan, D Carroll; B Menton 0-1, S O'Rourke 0-4; D Tobin, D McDonagh, A Tormey 0-1; B McMahon 0-1, S Bray, M Newman 0-6 (2 '45, 3f). Subs: D Bray 0-1 for McDonagh (45), P Harnan for Curran (45), G Reilly 0-1 for Tobin (57).
LAOIS: G Brody; P McMahon, M Timmons, P O'Leary; D Strong 0-2, P Begley, C Begley; J O'Loughlin, K Meaney; B Sheehan, C Meredith, D Conway; G Walsh 0-1 (f), D Kingston 0-3 (1f),R Munnelly 1-2 (1-0 pen, 0-2f). Subs: D Booth for Timmons (50), J Finn for Conway (53), MJ Tierney 0-1 for Munnelly (60), E O'Carroll 0-1 for Walsh (61), A Ryan for Sheehan (68).
REF: M Collins (Cork).