Thursday 20 June 2019

Time to lay semi-final bogey to rest

Sean Wall

Improvement of seismic proportions will hardly be needed for Meath to end their semi-final hoodoo in the Leinster Championship at Croke Park on Sunday (2pm).

However, if they are to make a statement of intent ahead of a probable final meeting with the all-conquering Dubs, then this is the stage for it.

After being less than impressive in the fortunate opening-round win over Offaly, Meath showed marked signs of progress when disposing of the feeble challenge of an undisciplined Carlow in the quarter-final.

The Royals, though, have a poor record at the penultimate stage of the provincial campaign, losing in their last three semi-final appearances. Back in 2015 the Royals were defeated by Westmeath for the first time in championship fare, going down by 3-19 to 2-18. The following year it was Dublin's turn to inflict misery, winning 0-21 to 0-11. Meath made it back to the semi-final in 2017 and this time Kildare stood in their way, recording a 2-16 to 0-13 victory.

The last time Meath made it to the Leinster decider was in 2014 after defeating the Lillywhites 2-16 to 0-17. Dublin then beat them in the decider 3-20 to 1-10 - a poor record in comparison to the glory days of the 1980s and 1990s.

Opponents Laois ended a hoodoo themselves with their narrow 0-12 to 0-10 victory over Westmeath in their recent quarter-final.

The O'Moore County had come out the wrong side of their two previous meeting with the midlanders, losing in the group stages in the NFL Division 3 and then the final after the counties had clinched promotion.

John Sugrue's side also lost to Louth in the league, but their win over Westmeath should prove a timely boost going into the tie with Meath.

Laois, of course, made it to last year's provincial decider, following a somewhat fortunate opening-round extra-time 2-21 to 1-18 win over Wexford.

In the quarter-final they overcame Westmeath 4-13 to 1-12 and then got the better of Carlow 0-12 to 0-8 in the semis. However, they failed to build on that progress with a disappointing 1-25 to 0-10 loss to Dublin, and their year ended in Pairc Tailteann when Monaghan got the better of them in a round four qualifier 0-19 to 1-11.

Evan O'Carroll, who lined out at corner forward and accounted for eight points in the win over Westmeath, also proved a prolific scorer throughout the league, finishing third in the top scorer table with an impressive 1-41 from eight outings.

He will without doubt prove a big stumbling block in the Royals' quest for a final spot and Meath may need to cut off the supply line to that area of the pitch.

Laois, though, have plenty of other potential match-winners, from keeper and 'outfield player' Graham Briody to Mark Timmons, Colm Begley, John O'Loughlin, Kieran Lillis and Paul Begley.

Donie Kingston and Brendan Quigley may not be in the starting 15, but both have the potential to prove a game-changer if introduced.

Youngster Sean O'Flynn made his championship debut in the half forward line against Westmeath, but it is uncertain if he will start against Meath as he is a student in Mountrath CS and will be in the middle of his Leaving Cert.

The return of Padraic Harnan against Carlow for his first start in over a year proved a massive boost for Andy McEntee's side and the Moynalvey man, who has a wealth of experience, should retain his place for Sunday.

It is expected that James McEntee, who missed out the last day because of injury, will be fully fit to resume, but he may have to settle for a place on the bench. Alternatively, the Curraha man could come into the half forward line, while another player fighting hard for a starting place in the forward line is St Colmcille's James Conlon who excelled when introduced against Carlow, scoring three points in the process.

It was difficult to evaluate Meath's display against Carlow. There were plenty of positives, but one wonders whether they have what it takes against quality teams.

Laois will provide another step up in standard, but it is one that Meath should be well capable of overcoming.

Drogheda Independent