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Saturday 16 February 2019

Third-string Dubs spot on!

O'Byrne Cup semi-final: Dublin 1-12 Meath 1-12 (Dublin won 3-1 on penalties)

It was Saturday night fever with a difference in Donnycarney as Parnell Park was heaving with over 6,000 patrons, there to spy the latest rendition of an ancient rivalry. And it didn't disappoint!

These old foes showed abundant flashes of blood and thunder, reflected in a card count of two blacks and two yellows for Dublin, one black and six yellows for Meath.

Both sides, chasing injury-time victory, displayed an obdurate refusal to bend the knee. It was close - so close that it required a penalty shootout to decide the outcome.

But here's the thing. Saturday's revival of Dublin/Meath in the rare old times came with one nagging caveat: the sides may have been deadlocked seven times, but don't mistake that for a level playing field.

This was relatively close to Meath's likely Allianz League team. This was Dublin's third string, give or take a few ambitious wannabes. And Dublin 'C' still won. Their reward is an O'Byrne Cup final date at the same venue next Friday night (8.0) against Westmeath.

'It was a good physical, strong contest. Nip and tuck, score for score,' enthused Dublin selector Paul Clarke, filling in for Jim Gavin as their O'Byrne Cup 'boss' for the third January running.

'Delighted with our performance - and, of course, it's great that we got a victory with that little twist at the end.'

Andy McEntee was philosophical afterwards, even if hinting some annoyance at their failure to capitalise on Dublin's denuded state.

'Without going ahead and winning it, we got as much out of it (the competition) as we possibly could. Game time into quite a few fellas.

'We would love to have another game, but it is what is and we've just got to go focus on the league now,' he concluded.

Ironically, much of the damage was inflicted by two players who dazzled for McEntee during his time with Ballyboden St Endas.

Ryan Basquel franked his application to join younger brother Collie on the Dublin panel by shooting an eye-catching 0-4, while Robbie McDaid's hopes of reclaiming a place in Gavin's set-up were surely enhanced by his crucial goal late in the first half.

Meath were backed by a strong first-half breeze and initially threatened to make full use of it, as a monster kickout from Barry Dardis exposed a central chasm and led to an eighth-minute goal from Graham Reilly, on as an early blood sub.

Soon after, they led by five; but Dublin gradually worked their way into contention. Ghosting on to Aaron Byrne's defence-shredding free, McDaid was denied what appeared a stonewall penalty. Undeterred, the marauding wing-back was there to fist home Dublin's 34th-minute goal after incisive approach play from Nathan Doran and Seán Bugler.

Basquel's injury-time equaliser after a slick one-two made it 1-7 apiece and, within four minutes of the restart the same player edged Dublin ahead for the first time.

From there on, even as the quality dipped before the adrenaline rush of a grandstand finish, you sensed that the hosts would find a way.

Dublin's experimental make-up was summed up by one stat: Conor Mullally was their only starter to feature in last year's SFC campaign, as a 'Super 8s' sub against Roscommon. Andrew McGowan and Conor McHugh entered off the bench - as they had against the Rossies last August.

McHugh looked to have won it at the death with a penetrating run and fisted point, only for Mullally to drag down Donal Keogan at the expense of a 76th-minute black card and equalising free from Mickey Newman.

The drama ended with Dublin displaying Teutonic efficiency from the spot as Byrne, Oisín Lynch and McHugh all converted.

Meanwhile, Seán Tobin apart, Meath did a convincingly wobbly-kneed impression of Dear Old Blighty caught in the penalty headlights: Andy Bunyan saved from Thomas O'Reilly, sandwiching two fatally-skied attempts from Newman and Dardis.

There were only two late examples where the handpass rule was breached (both by Meath, possibly fatigue-related).

McEntee later reiterated his opposition to the trial rules - apart from the 10-minute sin-bin.

And what of the other new experiment? 'I wouldn't have been overly happy with the penalties.

'It does add to the excitement, but I wouldn't like a championship (match) to be decided like that.'

SCORERS: Dublin - R Basquel 0-4, R McDaid 1-0, O Lynch, S Smith (2f) 0-2 each, S McMahon, A Byrne, S Bugler, C McHugh 0-1 each. Meath - M Newman 0-5 (4f, 1 mark), G Reilly 1-2, D Campion 0-3, B Brennan, J Conlon 0-1 each.

DUBLIN: A Bunyan; N Doran, S McMahon, C Smith; C O'Connor, C Mullally, R McDaid; D Gavin, C Howley; R Basquel, A Byrne, S Bugler; S Smith, C Pearson, O Lynch. Subs: C McHugh for Smith (47), C Reddin for Howley (47), A McGowan for Byrne (54), S Boland for Doran (54), G Seaver for Basquel (64), J Hazley for Bugler (72).

MEATH: B Dardis; S Lavin, C McGill, R Ryan; J McEntee, D Keogan, N Kane; B Menton, A Flanagan; N Hickey, D Campion, D Quinn; B Brennan, M Newman, T O'Reilly. Subs: G Reilly for Hickey (blood 7-23 and full sub h-t), M Brennan for Dardis (h-t), G McCoy for Quinn (h-t), S Tobin for Brennan (49), J Conlon for Campion (64).

Referee: F Kelly (Longford)

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