Allianz NHL Division 2A: Meath 2-24 Wicklow 3-18
A devastating Meath scoring spree that lasted for 10 brutal minutes in the second half derailed a superb Wicklow challenge that looked to have Eamonn Scallan's men on course for their first NHL Division 2A victory of the campaign in Navan last Sunday afternoon.
Bray's Padraig Doyle had just finished to the back of the Meath net to make it 3-17 to the visitors and 2-13 to the home side following a commendable recovery by Wicklow to the Royals closing to within two points after Scallan's men had led by four at the break when the mind-blowingly accurate Padraig O'Hanrahan started the blitz with a fine 65.
Like a heavyweight boxer caught in a flurry of thumping punches from his opponent, Wicklow had no answer for what followed as the Meath men, buoyed somewhat perhaps by the steadily increasing crowd arriving for the football game that was to follow, raised their performance impressively and went on to add another seven points to absolutely deflate what had been a really positive Wicklow performance up to that point.
That storm of scoring from the Meath men brought us up to the 63rd minute of the game and, crucially, gave Meath the lead for the first time when O'Hanrahan dropped over one of his many bombs of the day, this time after Eamonn Kearns had been adjudged to have overcarried by Galway referee Shane Hynes who undoubtedly did Wicklow very few favours over the course of the game.
Meath would go down to 14 men at this stage following an elbow by midfielder Alan Douglas but Wicklow's only reply on the scoreboard would be an Andy O'Brien free after 30 minutes as they were left reeling by the scoring onslaught from those cruel 10 minutes.
O'Hanrahan would cap a truly stupendous day for the Rathoe man with three more points before the death (two frees) to leave Meath victors by three points and Wicklow slumped on the grassy canvass of Páirc Tailteann.
It was all looking so different when Padraig Doyle found the back of Charlie Ennis' net on 55 minutes. A bad start to the game was dealt with admirably by the Wicklow men and they terrified the Meath defence with goals from the sublime Andy O'Brien and Eoin McCormack but they left majors behind which had they been converted would have damaged the Meath ship beyond repair.
An early Andy O'Brien point was cancelled out by a rapid 1-1 from the home side in a near-deserted Páirc Tailteann on a crisp Sunday afternoon, the goal from Éamon Ó Donnchadha and the point from the roving Jack Regan wearing 14 on his back.
Meath had pulled the bear-like Mickey Burke back to try curtail the threat of Andy O'Brien but his life would be made hell in the early stages as Andy rifled home a goal to the top corner after a high Danny Staunton ball and might have had another major as well when he caught majestically over the head of Burke but fired straight into the body of Ennis and was subsequently unable to get to the breaking ball. Jack Doyle would point in the ensuing mayhem of O'Brien's miss, but it was positive stuff from Wicklow.
Eoin McCormack fired over a wonder score after a neat find from a Conor McNally puck-out just prior to Andy's rocket of a goal and in the aftermath of that first Wicklow major, hungry work by Padraig Doyle to dispossess Shane Brennan from the Meath puck-out saw the Bray man find McCormack who charged down on the Meath goal and flicked home to the back of the net to leave Wicklow 2-3 to 1-3 ahead after 10 minutes of fiercely competitive action.
This was a belter of a game of hurling with Wicklow more than matching their burly Meath opponents. Bryan Kearney looked more than capable of handling the threat of the lofty Damien Healy at full-forward and although there looked to be pathways open to Meath in certain areas the work-rate of the Wicklow men was making life very difficult for the home side.
Eamonn Scallan's men were causing havoc for Meath when they ran at them or launched ball into their defence and the fitness and strength of the Wicklow hurlers was most impressive.
O'Hanrahan added two points either side of an Andy O'Brien free after a foul on John Henderson who lined out at midfield alongside the busy Eamonn Kearns.
Wicklow looked to be within sight of another major moments later when Eoin McCormack released Jack Doyle but the Carnew man was swallowed up by the Meath defence. The ball would spill to Peter Keane and the Éire Óg man would raise a white flag to leave three points between the sides in what was a hectic battle.
O'Hanrahan won and pointed his own free to reduce the arrears but Andy O'Brien converted two frees, one for overcarrying by Patrick Potterton and the other for a foul on the Pat's man by Shane Brennan, to leave Wicklow four points to the good and looking very comfortable in the heat of battle with massive shifts from Danny Staunton, Kearns, McCormack, Padraig Doyle and Andy O'Brien.
Charlie Ennis pulled off a magic save from the aforementioned Padraig Doyle in what was probably a key moment of this game. How the Meath goalkeeper managed to get his hurl to Doyle's shot is a mystery as it looked certain that it was destined to bulge the net and give Wicklow a seven-point lead after 23 minutes.
Alas, Wicklow would only earn a point from the subsequent 65 and within minutes Meath were back to within one thanks to a pointed free from O'Hanrahan and a goal from a penalty by Jack Regan after what seemed a drastically harsh call by the Galway official on Warren Kavanagh who looked to be contesting for a high ball with Healy in the same manner as any defender at any level of the game.
The work of the Wicklow team around the middle, especially under the puck-outs deserves a mention with Eamonn Kearns, John Henderson, Danny Staunton, Gary Byrne, Eoin McCormack, Padraig Doyle and Jack Doyle all working furiously to come up with possession and set Wicklow off on the front foot from the restarts.
Wicklow's reaction to the penalty was very positive. Points from Andy (free), Padraig Doyle, a McNally beast (free) from what looked like three miles out from the Meath goal, McCormack and Andy again (free) sent them in at the break leading their Meath opponents by 2-13 to 2-9 but facing that stiff breeze in the second half.
The home side started smartly with points from O'Hanrahan (free) and a bomb from the impressive James Toher at centre back who was immense in this game.
Again, Wicklow recovered well with points from Padraig Doyle, Jack Doyle, Andy (free), Danny Staunton, thanks to a bit of wizardry from Eamonn Kearns, and the visitors' third goal, this time from the hurl of Padraig Doyle to leave them sitting pretty at 3-17 to 2-13.
And then the onslaught occurred. It was as if Meath just flicked a switch and away they went and as bravely and as energetically as Wicklow could chase and battle they just couldn't hold the Royals and with O'Hanrahan in such scintillating form from the frees, once Meath got their noses in front it was going to take at least one goal to soften their cough and, unfortunately, that never looked like coming.
The Wicklow dressing room was a stunned one after the game. This was a game they could have won, and it would have put them in a healthy place in the league.
A trip to Mayo awaits the weekend after next where a win has now become incredibly vital.
Scallan's men welcome Kerry to Arklow after that before making the short trip to face Offaly away. Going on Sunday's performance and providing improvements are made in certain areas the Wicklow hurlers have no reason to fear playing anyone in this league.
'I thought, despite the wind conditions, that we had put oursleves ina good position after the first half,' said Wicklow selector Tom Darcy.
'We had 1-2 or 1-3 (missed) that we weren't that clinical and we've been stressing that in training the last few weeks that the teams we're playing against now in this league are clinical.
'Meath took every opportunity they had there today, pretty much, and it's just a bit of game management.
'Our lads are gutted in there, they're gutted. They know the game management and everything else is level above what they've been playing for the last couple of years and Meath got that five or six-minute spell and they got seven points, and we thought when we got that goal (Padraig Doyle's) and holding them, they came with a burst after half-time and we got back to six points (ahead), but when you get to this level you're punished,' he added
Scorers - Meath: Padraig O'Hanrahan 0-16 (13f, 1 65), Éamon Ó Donnchadha 1-1, Damien Healy 0-1, Jack Regan 1-2 (p), James Toher 0-1, Alan Douglas 0-1, Anthony Healy 0-1, Peter Slevin 0-1. Wicklow: Andy O'Brien 1-9 (7f, 1 65), Eoin McCormack 1-2, Padraig Doyle 1-2, Jack Doyle 0-2, Peter Keane 0-1, Danny Staunton 0-1, Conor McNally 0-1 (f).
Meath: Charlie Ennis; Seán Geraghty, Shane Brennan, Stephen Morris; Keith Keoghan, James Toher, Patrick Potterton; Alan Douglas, Nicholas Potterton; Damien Healy, Mickey Burke, Éamon Ó Donnchadha; Padraig O'Hanrahan, Jack Regan, Mark Slevin. Subs: Callum O'Sullivan for S Morris (33), Peter Slevin for N Potterton (48).
Wicklow: Conor McNally; Warren Kavanagh, Bryan Kearney, Martin O'Brien; Gary Byrne, Billy Cuddihy, Peter Keane; Eamonn Kearns, John Henderson; Jack Doyle, Eoin McCormack, Danny Staunton; Enda Donohoe, Andy O'Brien, Padraig Doyle. Subs: Luke Evans for J Doyle (58).
Referee: Shane Hynes (Galway)