Depleted Royals stay course to fend off gritty Louth outfit
Meath 0-11 Louth 0-10
Two divisions will separate Meath and Louth in this year's National League but it didn't always look like that in Drogheda yesterday.
There were times when Louth looked more like a Division 2 side than Meath and times when the Royals showed Division 4 tendencies. Still, they managed to apply the necessary corrective measures to book a clash with Longford in the final next Sunday, leaving Louth regretting what they regarded as a lost opportunity.
"We'd feel we left it behind us. It's a pity we didn't line up another game next Sunday," said Louth manager Colin Kelly.
His disappointment centred on events in a feisty second half during which Louth cut a five-point deficit down to one with 12 minutes left.
With Meath down to 14 men from the 52nd minute when corner-back Barry Tormey was sent off on a straight red card for an off-the-ball foul on Jim McEneaney, the momentum was flowing very much in Louth's direction, only for them to become infected by inaccuracy.
They kicked six wides in the final 15 minutes, which was in marked contrast to earlier on.
Indeed, McEneaney's miss from a free in the 56th minute was Louth's first wide. It was followed by five others and while Meath weren't making the most of their chances either, they still retained the all-important lead.
Mickey Newman stretched their lead to two points in the 67th minute and while Louth continued to batter away at the Meath defence on the run-in, their sole return was a late point from sub James Califf.
Extra-time beckoned if Louth scored an equaliser but they came up just short in what was a highly interesting encounter.
"It's disappointing to lose like that but we know from the last few weeks that we have a good platform to work off. Our application was very good but we let ourselves down in front of goal at times, especially in the last quarter. The good thing is that all the problems we had today are fixable in training," said Kelly.
Meath manager Mick O'Dowd was delighted with the manner of the victory, even if the overall performance was patchy. It included some good stretches but there were down periods too, which, if repeated against better opposition later on, would cause major difficulties.
Being short-handed for the final quarter increased the workload for Meath but they had already dipped by the time Tormey was sent off. They led by 0-7 to 0-3 at half-time and extended the advantage to five points on the re-start, only to surrender the initiative to a Louth team that found a new rhythm and tempo.
Midfielder Tommy Durnin powerfully asserted himself, getting forward to kick two excellent points and with McEneaney, Declan Byrne and Adrian Reid testing the Meath defence, Louth added two more points to trail by one after 49 minutes.
Meath didn't score their second point of the second half until the 51st minute but once Louth's directional sense went on the blink, the Royals happily grabbed the lifeline which took them through to a final clash with Longford.
"I'm proud of the way the lads dug out a win after being a man down for a good part of the second half," said O'Dowd reflected.
"I'm disappointed though that when we were four points up at half-time, we didn't kick on kill the game. We had chances but didn't turn them into scores."
He was operating with a new-look side which is still finding its way so he could take away quite a few positives while looking at ways of sorting out the negatives.
"If you're creating chances you're happy but obviously we have a bit of work to do on our finishing. Overall it was a good day's work in that it was a very competitive battle and we came out on the right side," said O'Dowd.
He would have expected Dublin to be Meath's opponents in the final, only to learn that Longford had produced a big shock in the other semi-final. "It's a bit of a surprise but fair play to Longford. They have obviously worked very hard to get here," he said.
The final will offer a fifth game in 21 days for both Meath and Longford, which is the ideal build-up for the league. "We wanted to get five games if we could and we've managed that," said O'Dowd.
Meath will begin their Division 2 programme at home to Armagh on Sunday week, while Louth's opening Division 4 engagement will be at home to London on the same day.
Scorers - Meath: M Newman 0-5 (4f), S Tobin 0-2 (1f), C Downey, G Reilly, C Finn, C O'Sullivan 0-1 each. Louth: J McEneaney 0-3 (2f), T Durnin, D Byrne 0-2 each, D Maguire, A Reid, J Califf 0-1 each.
Meath - P O'Rourke; B Tormey, D Keoghan, D Smyth; A Douglas, M Burke, C Finn; H Rooney, C Downey; G Reilly, M Newman, C O'Sullivan; S Tobin, D McDonagh, D Lenihan. Subs: S McEntee for Lenihan (41), P Harnan for Tobin (56), R O Coilleann for McDonagh (67), P Geraghty for O'Sullivan (71), P Kinnelly for Newman (73).
Louth - C Lynch; P Rath, D Quigley, K Toner; D Maguire, D McMahon, K McLoughlin; T Durnin, J Stewart; D Byrne, C McKeever, C Bellew; A Reid, J McEneaney, B Flanagan. Subs: K Murphy for Toner (22), G McSorley for Bellew (28), E Lafferty for McLoughlin (BC, 33), R Holcroft for Flanagan (62), A Williams for Murphy (64), J Califf for McKeever (66).
Ref - B Tierney (Dublin)
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