BANTY'S wacky 2012 just keeps on throwing up surprises. The Meath manager won't forget this year in a hurry, but it was all too close to turning for the very worst in Tullamore yesterday when the Royals defied their massive 1/14 odds and contrived to draw 1-12 apiece with Carlow, with the replay fixed for next Saturday night back in O'Connor Park.
Afterwards, Seamus McEnaney was asked what fellow Leinster hopefuls Dublin or Kildare would have made of the display and his response bore all the frustration of a man whose team had messed up in the most extreme terms.
"Sure listen ... we're not playing Dublin or Kildare," he fumed. "We're playing Carlow. We're lucky to be still in the Championship. Don't talk to me about Dublin and Kildare. I don't want to know about it. We're playing Carlow here in seven days' time. What are you on about Dublin and Kildare to me? On that form today, we won't get out of next Saturday night."
Still, Banty's assertion that Meath were "damn lucky" to survive without the ignominy of defeat is a little far-fetched. He even went so far as to surmise "this was the best possible result that we could get out here this evening. I'm delighted to get the result we got and we have our work cut out for ourselves for next week."
A Carlow win would, of course, have been in keeping with the spirit of the weekend's GAA action for another shock to transpire but it would most certainly not have been a fair result.
Meath were blatantly the better team yesterday. They led from the 13th minute until injury-time and were it not for a fumble by goalkeeper David Gallagher from Keith Jackson's speculative late shot, JJ Smith would never have been in a position to capitalise and force a replay.
Put simply, Meath should have won. And with a bit to spare.
They had Brian Farrell in gun-slinging mood up front, Cian Ward orchestrating calmly from slightly deeper and Graham Reilly breaking explosively from further back.
They had Donnacha Tobin and Mickey Burke making hay whilst their markers dropped back to lend to the defensive effort and they had a two-point half-time lead which, had they taken a high proportion of first-half chances, should have been at least twice the size.
Then, suddenly, they were in trouble in midfield. Brendan Murphy was omnipotent in that regard and with JJ Smith and Brian Murphy converting some fine long-range frees, Meath couldn't quite streak ahead.
"We let Carlow build far too easily out of defence," Banty bemoaned. "We weren't moving the ball quickly ourselves. We allowed them dictate things in the middle of the field in the second half."
Worse. They lost Conor Gillespie to a second yellow card on 54 minutes but even then, Carlow couldn't quite get level.
Thrice Luke Dempsey's men got to within a point but it was only when Smith took his goal in injury-time -- soon after both Paul Reid and Derek Hayden were sent off on straight red cards for separate late challenges -- that they established parity.
"It wasn't a case that we were complacent," McEnaney reflected. "We gave everything and it wasn't good enough. I can tell you now that we are delighted to get out of here with a draw."
Dempsey, meanwhile, added: "We put our heart and souls into it for Carlow. We were so much the underdog and you wonder when will the underdog ever stick his head over the wall and jump over the other side.
"Our players showed no inferiority whatsoever and I was very proud of that.
"The job is only half done so we hope to put in a similar, determined performance next weekend and finish off the job."