Meath overcome early setback to save their status and condemn Laois to drop
Meath 0-18 Laois 1-9
Meath secured their NFL Division 2 status for 2017 thanks to this comeback win over Laois in O'Moore Park yesterday.
The result also sees Laois relegated, as the O'Moore County finish the campaign bottom of the table, and they will be joined in Division 3 by Armagh.
The home side could have few complaints, as they started brightly but were eventually ground down by Meath. The dismissal of Laois' Evan O'Carroll in the 46th minute gave the hosts a mountain to climb, but with Armagh beating Derry, they still wouldn't have survived even if they won.
Laois knew they had to win to stand any hope of staying in the division, and they started the game like men on a mission. O'Carroll and Niall Donoher pointed within a minute of the throw-in to give the O'Moore men a dream start, as Meath looked on helplessly.
Four minutes in they had a goal, as Donie Kingston's shot was saved by Conor McHugh, but the in-rushing Donoher pounced on the ball and fired to an empty net.
Meath could barely get out of their own half and Laois were gladly punishing them, as Conor Meredith sent them six clear when he tapped over a free.
John O'Loughlin was next in on the act when he curled over a point from the left wing, and Laois could hardly have asked for a better start.
Meath finally opened their account in the seventh minute when Cillian O'Sullivan pointed from close range, but Laois quickly replied through Gary Walsh.
Seven clear and with wind advantage, Laois looked like they were going to blitz Meath in that first half, but the Royal County came roaring back. Mickey Newman had a goal chance saved but Donnacha Tobin pointed the rebound, and that set them on their way.
A run of points followed, as Graham Reilly (2) and Newman narrowed the gap. Laois were struggling to keep up now, and Meath had finally hit their stride, as they rattled off a total of seven points without reply to draw level.
Conor Downey kicked the equaliser, and Laois finally awoke from their slumber after that, as Donie Kingston got their first point for 20 minutes. Newman responded for Meath, and that left the teams level at 1-6 to 0-9 at the interval.
Laois got a bright start to the second half with a point from O'Carroll, and a Gary Walsh free minutes later had them two ahead.
Things started to come apart for them after that when young gun O'Carroll picked up a second yellow card for an incident spotted by linesman Marty Duffy, and Meath made their extra man count from there to the end.
Over the remaining 30 minutes of play, Laois could muster just one more point, from a free by Ross Munnelly, while Meath hit the afterburners to leave the home side on course for Division 3 football.
They took their time to draw level, as a Newman free was cancelled out by Munnelly's effort to leave two in it going into the last 15 minutes, but scores from Mickey Burke and Sean Tobin resored parity.
From there to the end the visitors were in control, as Graham Reilly hit his third of the day from the right wing to give Meath a lead they would not relinquish.
Laois were desperate now, but they met a Meath defence in inspired form, as they were blocked or forced into overcarrying the ball time and again.
Dalton McDonagh pushed them two ahead with a point from the left wing, and Tobin soon added to that. With three points between the sides Meath were indebted to goalkeeper Conor McHugh, as he made a brilliant save from Darren Strong to maintain his team's lead.
That was Laois' last meaningful chance, as Meath responded with three more points before the final whistle to wrap up a six-point win, and, more importantly, ensure they will have Division 2 status for next year.
Scorers - Meath: M Newman 0-4 (3f), S Tobin (f), G Reilly 0-3 each, D McDonagh 0-2, D Smith, M Burke, D Tobin, C O'Sullivan, A Tormey, C Downey 0-1 each.
Laois: N Donoher 1-1, E O'Carroll, G Walsh (f) 0-2 each, C Meredith (f), D Kingston (f), R Munnelly (f), J O'Loughlin 0-1 each.
LAOIS - G Brody 7; A Farrell 6, M Timmons 6, S Attride 8; D Strong 6, R Kehoe 6, G Dillon 5; B Quigley 5, K Meaney 5; C Meredith 5, J O'Loughlin 5, N Donoher 6; E O'Carroll 5, D Kingston 5, G Walsh 6. Subs: D O'Connor 6 for Dillon (h-t), N Murphy 5 for Kehoe (52, inj), R Munnelly 5 for Walsh (53), P Cahillane for Donoher (60), J Farrell for Meaney (62), D O'Reilly for Meredith (66).
MEATH - C McHugh 7; D Keoghan 7, C McGill 8, M Burke 7; J McEntee 7, D Smith 7, D Tobin 6; H Rooney 7, P Harnan 7; G Reilly 8, C O'Sullivan 6, C Downey 6; D McDonagh 7, A Tormey 6, M Newman 7. Subs: C O'Brien 6 for D Tobin (h-t, inj), D Lenihan 6 for Tormey (47), S Tobin 7 for Downey (59), A Douglas for Lenihan (69).
Ref - M McNally (Monaghan)