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Garden left in shade as freakish goal turns it


Peadar Byrne, Meath, is tackled by Darragh O'Sullivan, and Paul Earls, Wicklow. Picture: Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE

Peadar Byrne, Meath, is tackled by Darragh O'Sullivan, and Paul Earls, Wicklow. Picture: Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE

Peadar Byrne, Meath, is tackled by Darragh O'Sullivan, and Paul Earls, Wicklow. Picture: Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE

WICKLOW boss Harry Murphy was left to mourn 30 seconds of "madness". His opposite number, Mick O'Dowd, reckoned it was not the "winning and losing of the game" – but man of the match Graham Reilly conceded it was a "massive" turning point.

Any summation of Meath's first successful foray into the Leinster SFC of 2013 must begin in one place only ... that bizarre half-a-minute that transformed the scoreboard landscape and psychological mindset on a squally night in Aughrim.

The clock was ticking towards 30 minutes and Meath led by 0-9 to 1-4 – a threadbare cushion given the mini-gale they had played with, as a Wicklow team inspired by Paul Earls' well-crafted early goal battled heroically.

Then the gung-ho hosts won a penalty, Paddy O'Rourke adjudged to have dragged down John McGrath, even though he appeared to have been fouled first by Seanie Furlong's lunge underneath the airborne netminder.

Furlong patiently stood over his spot kick – and then waited some more as referee Conor Lane went back to yellow card Mickey Burke for some shenanigans near the 'D' that left James Stafford on the deck.

Maybe the long delay spooked Furlong, whose scuffed penalty came as a godsend to the reprieved O'Rourke.

Cue a routine save ... but there was nothing routine about what happened next.

On the resultant counter-attack, Kevin Reilly had barely crossed his own '65' when the Meath captain fired one of his familiar bazookas. Hail Mary, full of venom; the ball bounced maybe 20 metres from goal and seemed to gather pace as it spun in a fiendish arc off the turf, over John Flynn's head and under the crossbar.

"Madness," bemoaned Murphy. "We missed a penalty ... and they came down and got that freak.

"Johnny was playing well all day, he made some great saves, kept us in the game at times – and then that happened to him.

"I feel sorry for the chap, he's devastated in there. But that's football."

Meath's phlegmatic manager had a more measured take on that pivotal sequence.

"Championship games take a life of their own," O'Dowd mused. "It came at an important stage, but I'd have the utmost trust and faith in our lads that if the penalty had gone in, we'd have responded in a different way."

But what of that freakish goal? "He picked his spot!" the new boss deadpanned, quickly reminding us that his full-back has "form in that regard", having scored a similar wind-assisted missile against Roscommon back in March.



Modesty – and honesty – compelled the goalscorer himself to admit: "I couldn't say I was going for it."

But he conceded that it did swing the game – a point repeated by his namesake, Graham Reilly, who said: "It was a six-point swing in the space of maybe 30 seconds or a minute.

"We rode our luck a bit, but you need luck to win championship games."

The luckless Flynn would doubtless agree. TV replays confirmed that the 'keeper was positioned only a few yards off his line, so you couldn't attach total culpability for this surreal concession.

And yet, for the few remaining minutes before half-time, the Wicklow No 1 appeared spooked ... and almost conceded a second goal in injury-time as he ambled back towards goal after hand-passing to teammate Alan Byrne, who kicked errantly straight to Stephen Bray, whose attempted point went over Flynn and had to be caught on his own line by full-back Damian Power.

As if inspired by his goal-hungry fellow full-back, Bryan Menton had already completed the first half scoring.

Thus, Meath retired for the ingestion of tea and stats with a barely credible six-point cushion - 1-10 to 1-4.

Just as well, too, given that Wicklow exploded from the second half traps with four points in as many minutes, before the newly introduced Pauric Harnan (last year's minor captain and nephew of a certain Royal legend Liam) kick-started the counter-rally.

First, the rookie wing-back started and ended the move for Meath's first point of the half; then he won the next kick-out break to release Reilly (Graham) for one of his trademark points on the run – his fourth from play. Meath never looked overly vulnerable thereafter – with one exception, on 58 minutes, when marauding midfielder Anthony McLoughlin ambitiously went for an equalising goal instead of taking his point, forcing an O'Rourke save.



In the home straight Wicklow had run out of ideas (bar rudimentary route one) to prise open Meath's defence. It had been a different story early on, encapsulated by their seventh minute goal when the ever-probing John McGrath angled the perfect pass for Earls, who caught Donal Keogan on the wrong side and cut in on goal, roofing his shot in some style. There were times, in that first half, when Meath's defence was cut open with worrying ease via one missed tackle.

Just as well, then, that Graham Reilly was in the point-scoring groove from early on while, as the game progressed, his fellow Reilly at full-back; Harnan on his half-time introduction; high-fielding, workaholic midfielder Brian Meade; and livewire debutant Eamonn Wallace all came into their own.

Not that this will ease Wicklow's sense of an opportunity lost.

"It's hard to take because I don't think there was five points in it," Murphy concluded. "Fair play to them, that's Meath for you."