McEnaney's Royal relief
Meath 0-11 , Galway 0-10
Published 11/07/2011 | 05:00
ONE GLANCE at the scoreline tells you this was no classic, but short of Graham Geraghty hobbling on to make the game-winning save with his crutches, things could hardly have been more dramatic.
Goalkeeper Brendan Murphy was eventually Meath's saviour, coming off his line smartly to make the game-saving block in the dying seconds after another unforgettable championship night at what should really be re-christened 'Heart Attack Park' in Navan.
For some Galway fans, visiting corner-forward Cormac Bane was the villain of this dramatic piece. With the clock ticking into the final seconds of the four minutes of official injury-time, he came bearing down on the Meath goal and just needed to fist the ball over to take the game into the extra-time that was long written all over it.
Instead he went for the winner, and ex-Wimbledon goalkeeper Murphy foiled him and the final whistle sounded almost immediately.
Those who rushed to blame Bane obviously forgot the three points in a row he had scored on either side of the break to kickstart the Tribesmen's comeback.
Crestfallen manager Tomas O Flatharta rushed to defend him, saying: "he was very close to the goalkeeper and whether he could have punched it or not, there was a goal opportunity on and I think he did the right thing in going for it.
"Nine times out of 10 Cormac would have scored that. He had a good game and we're are not looking for any scapegoats. We go down as a team, that's the way we do it."
Had Meath lost there's no doubt who the scapegoat would have been.
Meath manager Seamus McEnaney's laboured breathing indicated a man who knew just how close he'd come to the gallows.
The Royals lived to fight another day, but the post-mortems will be forensic to discover why they were so profligate in the first half and then got the complete yips in the second.
They only led by four points (0-8 to 0-4) at half-time despite running rings around Galway with a lovely brand of off-loading football -- they had already kicked nine wides, dropped another couple short and missed two goal chances.
After the restart they went a massive 30 minutes without scoring in a shocking collective mental meltdown that rivalled Rory McIlroy's in Augusta.
It wasn't that they didn't have chances, they just kept wasting them in such a ridiculous fashion that they eventually got afraid to even pull the trigger.
Their Jekyll and Hyde performance left the Meath fans that dominated the 17,000 crowd tearing their hair out but, as always, 'Banty' chose to accentuate the positive.
"We mixed the best football we played all year with the worst football we played all year," admitted McEnaney. "But we just wanted to be in the drum and we're in it.
"They showed the sort of character you'd expect from Meath down the years. A point down going into injury-time and we dug out a result.
"On the plus side, we had 35 or 36 shots on goal and a load (14) of wides and we've a lot of things we can work on."
He denied that Graham Reilly's failure to start had anything to do with the fact that he played for his club last Thursday, insisting "20 minutes for his club wouldn't do him any harm".
It was Reilly who finally broke Meath's second-half duck, getting a vital equaliser after Galway -- led heroically by Matthew Clancy and with points from Bane, Padraic Joyce and defender Gareth Bradshaw -- had taken the lead for the first time in the 63rd minute.
Another Meath sub, Brian Farrell, got them level again after Galway corner-back Johnny Duane gave the visitors a second lead as the game moved into lengthy injury-time.
In the frenetic final minutes, another impressive Meath sub Mark Ward and heroic centre-back Shane McAnarney won vital ball and Stephen Bray curled over the eventual winner in the 73rd minute before the dramatic denouement between Murphy and Bane.
Galway's luck was not in. Michael Meehan, after starting his first game this year, was gone after 25 minutes with a dislocated shoulder.
But with Kevin Reilly shaking off his back problems to have a fantastic game on Joyce, their lack of other attacking options was badly exposed and epitomised by goalkeeper Adrian Faherty taking, and missing, three '45s'.
Restored to his best position, Finian Hanley did well in a good full-back line and the arrival of Fiachra Breathnach and the switch of young Thomas Flynn helped them wrest back control of a midfield that had been so dominated by Brian Meade.
But Meath made Galway look very average for far too long and the conundrum was why the scoreboard didn't show it.
Cian Ward couldn't be expected to match his amazing tally against Louth but missed even simple 20m frees and Joe Sheridan (eventually thrown in to full-forward) and Stephen Bray also had some horrendous misses.
Target practice will surely be the priority this week.
Scorers -- Meath: S Bray 0-3, G O'Brien, S McAnarney, S O'Rourke, B Meade, J Sheridan, G Reilly, B Farrell, C Ward (f) 0-1 each. Galway: P Joyce 0-4 (1f), C Bane 0-3 (1f), J Duane, G Bradshaw, M Clancy 0-1 each.
Meath -- B Murphy 8; G O'Brien 7, K Reilly 8, C O'Connor 8; C Lenehan 6, S McAnarney 9, C King 7; S O'Rourke 7, B Meade 8; P Gilsenan 6, J Sheridan 7, S Kenny 7; S Bray 7, P O'Rourke 5, C Ward 6. Subs: G Reilly 7 for Gilsenan (41), B Farrell 7 for P O'Rourke (46), M Ward 8 for C Ward (55), N Crawford 6 for Meade (65), E Reilly 6 for King (65).
Galway -- A Faherty 6; J Duane 8, F Hanley 8, C Forde 6; G Bradshaw 7, D Blake 6, G Sice 5; J Bergin 8, F O'Curraoin 5; T Flynn 7, M Hehir 5, M Clancy 8; M Meehan 5, P Joyce 7, C Bane 7. Subs: F Breathnach 8 for Meehan (inj, 24), P Conroy 7 for Bergin (54), E Concannon 5 for Hehir (56), M Boyle for M Clancy (72).
Ref -- M Collins (Cork).