Meath make very hard work of 13-man Wicklow
MEATH 2-19 WICKLOW 3-12
NOTHING out of the ordinary in Navan.
Meath qualified for the Leinster semi-finals with less ease than most predicted, beating a Wicklow team - who finished with 13 men - by just four points, far inside the level of comfort most in the 8, 417 in Páirc Tailteann had hoped.
No-one though, came away any closer to knowing whether they can loosen Dublin’s chokehold on the Leinster title in the provincial final everyone expects next month.
Wicklow are consigned now to an away qualifier against a bruised and beaten Armagh, though not before producing patches of a performance here, above and beyond what anyone - even their own - had anticipated.
After Conor McGraynor blasted a penalty for Wicklow’s third goal in the 57th minute, John McGrath stood over a fairly routine free that would, had he scored, have left just a point between the teams.
The sense of unease in the ground was palpable.
McGrath, though, curled his shot high and right of the upright.
A minute later, Andrew Tormey put three between the teams and a established measure of security.
Another minute after that, Wicklow corner-forward Paul Cronin was sent off for a second yellow card, despite the fact that no-one in the ground recalled his first.
With that, Meath trundled towards the end, Andrew Tormey punishing Wicklow’s indiscipline with three late frees in a haul of 1-9 (1-0 pen, 0-8f).
Twice, Meath looked to have scored the goal that would break Wicklow’s belief and twice, Johnny Magee’s team responded with redemptive goals of their own.
But mostly, Meath fed Wicklow’s belief directly.
In a defence featuring four Championship debutants, Wicklow caused sporadic but pronounced panic with the simple application of the ball to their full-back line.
John McGrath blasted a shot straight at Paddy O’Rourke after happily catching a Meath fumble closeby.
Tormey scored a penalty after seven minutes and just when it threatened to get ugly, Cronin snapped up with of his own after another black out in the Meath full-back line.
Graham Reilly, who scored 1-4, took matters into his own hands and at 1-11 to 1-6 at half-time, Meath seemingly just needed to change gear to put Wicklow away.
Immediately after half-time, Reilly finished a routine move to widen the gap but McGraynor scored the first of two penalties within six minutes and his second - after Paddy O’Rourke was black carded - left them within two.
McGrath’s erred with that free though, and the losses of Cronin and Dean Healy to red cards stunted Wicklow’s chances of generating any late drama.
SCORERS - Meath: A Tormey 1-9 (1-0 pen, 0-8f), G Reilly 1-4, B McMahon 0-3, J McEntee, J Wallace, S Bray 0-1 each. Wicklow: C McGraynor 2-1 (2-0 pen), P Cronin 1-0, T Kelly, J McGrath (3f) 0-3 each, D Hayden 0-2, P McLoughlin, D Woods, S Kelly 0-1 each.
MEATH: P O’Rourke; J McEntee, B Power, D Tobin; N Judge, D Keogan, D Dalton; H Rooney, A Flanagan; A Tormey, P Harnan, G Reilly; J Wallace, S Bray, B McMahon. Subs: M Burke for Judge (h-t), B Menton for Flanagan (48), E Wallace for J Wallace (51), C McHugh for O’Rourke (55 black card), K Reilly for Dalton (58), S Tobin for Power (66)
WICKLOW: R Lambert; A Murphy, P Cunningham, C Hyland; D Healy, P McLoughlin, M Kenny; A McLoughlin, D Woods; N Gaffney, S Kelly, D Hayden; P Cronin, T Kelly, J McGrath. Subs: C McGranor for Gaffney (27 black card), R O’Brien for Cunningham (42), J Stafford for Woods (44), P Dalton for McLoughlin (49), B McCrea for McGrath (67), P McWalter for Kenny (69).
REF: B Cassidy (Derry)