Impressive Royals draw comfort from great result
IF one were to adopt Murphy's Law then Meath didn't stand a chance on this visit to Sean MacCumhaill Park, Ballybofey last Sunday.
However they were denied a famous victory against the 2012 All-Ireland champions by full forward Michael Murphy - no relation to the aforementioned - who landed an equalising point with the last kick of the game to give the Donegal men a share of the spoils they hardly deserved.
The game was in the second minute of added time when Meath were awarded a line ball close to their own corner flag. With a desperate Donegal covering most of the angles Shane O'Rourke delayed his kick long enough to prompt Armagh referee Padraig Hughes to cancel the line ball and throw it up between himself and Neil Gallagher.
However Michael Newman in his urgency to clear the danger encroached to claim possession, handing the hosts a free which Murphy kicked over from the tightest of angles.
It was tough luck on the Meath men who produced a mighty effort throughout against the division 2 table toppers who had full points from their three previous outings.
The visitors came into the game on the back of a poor run of form and under pressure to at least produce a performance to give themselves hope for the remainder of the campaign.
Manager Mick O'Dowd and his selectors did their homework before the throw-in leaving under-21 stars Padraic Harnan and Eamon Wallace on the bench and bringing Sean Curran in for his first start of the year.
Donal Keogan made a successful switch from corner to centre back while Damien Carroll was assigned to track the lively Mark McHugh.
Bryan Menton benefited from his switch to midfield as did Andrew Tormey to attack. The reshuffle seemed to have the desired effect and the Meath full back line of Mickey Burke, Kevin Reilly and Eoghan Harrington restricted the Donegal full forward line to just two points from play. Full forward Murphy was well held by Reilly with all of his points coming from placed balls.
Apart from the sequence that led to the equalising score, the closing staged proved hectic as David Walsh and Darach O'Connor both struck the upright with efforts for Donegal while Mark O'Sullivan squandered a great opportunity to double Meath's advantage shortly after another sub, Graham Reilly had pointed them ahead.
Meath started in much more determined mood on this occasion building up a 0-7 to 0-2 lead. However disaster struck on 28 minutes when a point effort from corner back Frank McGlynn sneaked over the head of Paddy O'Rourke to the net. That brought Donegal back into contention but Meath responded in the best possible fashion and Michael Newman put the finishing touch to a great move by finding the net and it helped the visitors to an unexpected 1-7 to 1-5 interval lead.
With Newman in good scoring form and Shane O'Rourke and Bryan Menton dominating the Meath challenge didn't slacken in the second half although Jimmy McGuinness' side raised the tempo significently.
Damien Carroll had his best outing for quite a while while Keogan was rock-solid at centre back. Both benches played crucial roles in that second half with Karl Lacey influential when replacing the black carded Ryan McHugh. Graham Reilly shone for Meath following his introduction while another sub Eamon Wallace shot a crucial point.
Points from Newman and Bryan McMahon doubled Meath's advantage early in the third quarter but Donegal responded through Murphy and Colm McFadden, and then McFadden made it a one point game following another score.
The hard working Christy Toye struck the equaliser and with the momentum behind them Donegal seemed to have judged their run to perfection. Just a little over 15 minutes remained when McFadden hit his third point of the half to put his side ahead for the second time in the game.
However the Meath challenge wasn't about to fizzle and they hit back to regain the lead following points from Wallace and Newman. Murphy restored parity again only for Graham Reilly to hit what looked like the winning score. There was to be one final twist though as captain Murphy kept his cool to loft over the leveller for the last time much to the delight of the majority of the 7,000 crowd.
DONEGAL: P Durcan; E McGee, N McGee, F McGlynn 1-0; A Thompson, L McLoone, R McHugh; R Kavanagh, M McElhinney; M McHugh, C Toye 0-2, O MacNiallais; C McFadden 0-3 (2f), M Murphy 0-6 (6f), D Molloy 0-1. Subs: N Gallagher for Kavanagh (43), D O'Connor for Molloy (43), K Lacey for R McHugh (48, black card), D Walsh for MacNiallais (58).
MEATH: P O'Rourke; M Burke, K Reilly, E Harrington; S Curran 0-1, D Keogan, D Carroll 0-1; S O'Rourke 0-1 (f), B Menton; A Tormey 0-2, D Tobin, D McDonagh; B McMahon 0-1, S Bray, M Newman 1-4 (0-3f). Subs: P Harnan for Tobin (h-t), G Reilly 0-1 for Bray (h-t), S Kenny for Curran (52), E Wallace 0-1 for McMahon (52), M O'Sullivan for Tormey (62), D Bray for Menton (69).
REF: P Hughes (Armagh).