| 9.3°C Dublin

Louth rage but Meath adamant it's all over

After 53 years and 73 minutes it seemed that Louth were set to celebrate another historic Leinster senior football title win.

As the celebratory Louth corks were about to pop, a last-gasp high ball from Graham Reilly sparked a red meltdown.

When Louth captain Paddy Keenan blocked a shot by Seamus Kenny the ball rebounded to Joe Sheridan.

In the ensuing melee, the ball was scrambled into the net. When referee Martin Sludden allowed Sheridan's goal to stand, Croke Park witnessed the sort of chaotic and unsettling scenes officials surely hoped we'd never see again.

Louth supporters would agree with distraught manager Peter Fitzpatrick's assessment: "We were absolutely robbed."

While reluctant to attend a press conference afterwards, Fitzpatrick vented his anger and disappointment to local Louth radio station LMFM.

"It's a disgraceful decision by the referee," he declared. "I thought he threw the ball in the net. I was talking to Seamus Kenny afterwards and he said it wasn't a goal. I went to the referee and I said, 'why did you give the goal?' He said: 'C'mon with me to the dressing room'. He explained he was going to give a penalty," claimed Fitzpatrick of referee Sludden. "I said if you were going to give a penalty, why didn't you give a penalty? Why didn't you consult your umpires? Aaron Hoey asked him to consult the umpires and he told the umpire to put the flag up. What is the point in having umpires?"

As the realisation sank in that his team had been denied a glorious opportunity to make local history, Fitzpatrick complained: "I honestly thought he was Dick Turpin without a mask." It was unclear whether he was referring to Sheridan or the referee.

"It was pure daylight robbery, I'm very, very annoyed."

Sheridan had no doubt.

"The goal was given and it's as simple as that," he said. "On another day we'd have had the luck against us, so we'll take it. I was pushed in over the line. It was a penalty if he wasn't giving a goal. So I think it was a perfect goal."

Meath boss Eamonn O'Brien was uncomfortable under cross-examination afterwards. "I didn't see it," he protested. "People on RTE are saying it didn't look like a goal. But I can't say and I'm not commenting on whether it was. I could comment on loads of decisions that were made during the game that didn't go our way. Nigel Crawford was booked and Louth got a point off it. The game goes for 70 minutes and decisions are made and you live with them. And that's it."

Sensing the storm of controversy that was boiling up, O'Brien didn't look like a man who'd just guided Meath to a first Leinster title in nine years. His hands unwittingly folding and crushing his cap like a Greek islander fidgeting with his worry beads, the manager continued: "I suppose if you take Louth's second-half performance, maybe they deserved a lot more out of that game. But that's football. Football, and sport, is a cruel game at times.

"We've been on the receiving end of cruel things over the last eight or nine years and these players have suffered a lot of disappointments and I don't begrudge them the victory here today."

Asked about suggestions that Meath should offer a replay, O'Brien responded: "I don't know where that's coming from. If that's the case, you'd be offering replays to every team in the country. Do we go go back and look at the decision against Nigel where Louth got a point and we were beaten by a point? Would anyone be asking or talking? Because of the time the event happened, it became a big talking point."

Meath captain Nigel Crawford understood Louth's dismay. "It happened right at the end of the game when they thought they had the match won and it was snatched away from them," he said.

Crawford's opinion was that the incident would take from the enjoyment of Meath's title win.

"By the questions we're being asked, it shows that that's the talking point as opposed to us winning our first Leinster in nine years. If it happened in the first minute there'd be no talking about it," he said.