Royals rally to pass difficult test from Derry
Meath 1-15 Derry 1-10
There were scary moments in the ecclesiastical city before the Gods eventually smiled on Meath in this All-Ireland MFC quarter-final at the Athletic Grounds, Armagh, last Saturday.
The Royals seemed to be cantering to a last-four spot at their ease after they produced a sizzling opening-half display, at the end of which they led 1-10 to 0-4.
That lead increased within 40 seconds of the restart, but for the next 20 minutes a revitalised Derry dominated and in the process whittled a 10-point deficit down to the minimum.
Derry had the momentum at that stage and the exit door loomed large for Joe Treanor's side. However, the Meath boys steadied themselves and showed admirable character to score four unanswered points and close out the game.
This was Meath's toughest test to date and maybe it was what was needed after strolling through the Leinster campaign. Conditions made it something of a lottery at times, though Meath revelled in the lashing rain that fell throughout the opening half.
The second-period collapse will be a concern to management ahead of the semi-final against Galway on the second weekend of August. Meath were unable to get their hands on the ball around midfield in that spell and the defence came under increasing pressure to hold on.
It all started so well, with midfielder Adam Reilly soloing through for the opening point within 14 seconds of the throw-in. Conleth McGuckian replied at the other end from a free less than a minute later, but Meath dominated the half, even if it was only in the closing stages that they put real light between themselves and their opponents.
Successive points from Luke Kelly, Cian McBride and Darragh Swaine left in 0-4 to 0-1 after nine minutes. Derry responded with points from Enda Downey (two) before Luke Mitchell - with his first score - left it 0-5 to 0-3 at the end of the opening quarter.
Darragh Swaine and David Bell then added to the Meath tally before McGuckian again converted a free for the Oak Leaf's last score of the half.
Meath pressed home their superiority in earnest in a five-minute spell immediately before half-time. Mitchell and Kelly both pointed before Mitchell struck for his side's goal in added time, producing a great finish from a tight angle.
Moments earlier Meath keeper Sean Brennan had rushed off his line to save his side's skin when Ethan Doherty looked certain to net.
David Bell almost added a second Meath goal, but keeper Aidan Gillan reacted superbly to keep out his dipping shot. However, Bryan McCormack's point left Meath nine clear at the break.
There seemed no way back for Derry after Mitchell pointed a free within 40 seconds of the restart. However, McGuckian from a free and Downey from play replied for Derry and midfielder Niall Doyle added another point by the 40th minute.
Meath were still creating opportunities at that stage and Mitchell was foiled after attempting to take a teasing lob from Costello around the Derry keeper.
Derry, who lost the Ulster final by three points to Monaghan, steadily grew in confidence, though five points still separated the teams following Downey's point on 47 minutes, 1-11 to 0-9.
The dangerous McGuckian could have reduced the deficit further but instead shot wide and then keeper Brennan again came to his side's rescue to keep out an effort from sub Sean Kearney at the expense of a '45.
That kick was converted by Downey and it was game on in earnest when Harry O'Higgins dragged Downey to the ground, resulting in a penalty and a black card for the Meath full back.
McGuckian made no mistake from the spot kick to leave just a point between the teams. Conor McAteer then saw his effort for the equalising point hit the woodwork as Meath came under increasing pressure.
Eventually, Luke Mitchell lifted the siege with a point from a 35-metre free. That gave them some breathing space and captain Matthew Costello stretched the lead further on 56 minutes.
The game was in added time when Meath made certain of victory with two further Mitchell points, both from placed balls.
MEATH: Sean Brennan (Dunderry), James O'Hare (Rathkenny), Harry O'Higgins (Drumbaragh), Cathal Hickey (Seneschalstown); Conor Farrelly (Walterstown), Sean Coffey (Ballinabrackey), Oisin McCloskey (Na Fianna); Adam Reilly 0-1 (Moynalty), Cian McBride 0-1 (St Ultan's); Darragh Swaine 0-2 (Clann na nGael), Matthew Costello 0-1 (Dunshaughlin), Bryan McCormack 0-1 (Moynalty); David Bell 0-1 (St Colmcille's), Luke Kelly 0-2 (Na Fianna), Luke Mitchell 1-6 (5f) (Dunshaughlin). Subs: Colin Hawdon (Oldcastle) for McCormack (41), Luke Newe (Ratoath) for McCloskey (37), Niall Bennett (Kilmainhamwood) for Swaine (51), Killian Price for O'Higgins (51), Joseph Moore for Kelly (59).
DERRY: Aidan Gillan; Eoin McKeever, Aidan McCluskey, Ronan McFaul; Jamie Duggan, Johnny McErlain, Adam Canavan; Niall Doyle 0-1, Iarlaith Donaghy; Eunan McElhennon, Conleth McGuckian 1-4 (1-0 pen, 3f), Ethan Doherty; Eoghan Hawe, Enda Downey 0-5 (1f, 1 '45), Conan Milne. Subs: PJ McAleese for Duggan (14), Sean Kearney for Canavan (37), Conor McAteer for Hawe (41), Dara Mooney for McElhennon (61), Ronan Lee for McGuckian (BC 64).
REF: Liam Devenney (Mayo)