Dublin 1-20 Meath 0-19
The last time Dublin and Meath squared up to each other in Parnell Park 12 years ago five players saw red, nine more were subsequently banned, the County Boards were fined €20,000 each and Dublin won.
There was less drama tonight as Dublin secured a four-point win to banish any lingering relegation worries and keep alive a mathematical chance of winning the league.
Already relegated, this was Meath’s sixth successive defeat on their return to the top flight. One suspects Andy McEntee is more concerned about next month’s Leinster quarter-final against either Wicklow or Wexford, if it ever goes ahead. But his side performed credibly although a failure to avail of any of the three goal chances they created scuppered any chance of winning their first league tie against Dublin since beating them in Croke Park in October 1995.
This was Dublin’s first league match at the Donnycarney venue since March 2010 when they lost to Galway by a goal. But the football world has been transformed since then, though probably not as dramatically as the world itself.
Stephen Cluxton eclipsed another record by becoming Dublin’s longest serving player - he made his debut in the Leinster Championship against Longford on May 27, 2001. By starting his twentieth season he surpassed the record of another goalkeeper, Johnny McDonnell, who played for Dublin between July 1919 and May 1938 and featured on the Dublin side that played in Croke Park on Bloody Sunday in November 1920. Earlier, he had been a member of Michael Collins' squad which killed a number of British agents.
It was Dean Rock who grabbed the headlines early on however, hitting a goal after a short Meath kick-out went awry.
The score was of historical significance as it meant the Ballymun ace became Dublin’s leading scorer of all time, surpassing Jimmy Keaveney’s tally of 30-402 (492). Rock’s goal brought his tally to 17-442 (493). At the final whistle he had increased his advantage to eight points after scoring 1-8. He achieved the feat in 95 games compared to 104 for Keaveney.
Meath kept just two players, Cillian O’Sullivan and Shane Walsh, up front but despite having a surfeit of bodies back in defence they struggled to kept tabs with the Dublin attack. The home side targeted their kick-outs and by the first water break they were 1-5 to 0-3 ahead.
The visitors improved in the second quarter but still found scoring more difficult, but a bout of indiscipline from the Dublin defence allowed Meath to stage a recovery as Tomas O’Reilly converted three frees on the spin to cut the deficit to four points (1-10; 0-9) by the 30th minute.
There was a decisive moment in injury time in the first half when in Meath’s best move, corner back Eoin Harkin – who earlier hit a point – combined with Cathal Hickey to put him through but the rapidly advancing Cluxton smothered Hickey’s effort.
Meath were rewarded, however, when Dublin gave away another needless free and the razor accurate O’Reilly nailed it to leave three points between the sides at the break (1-10; 0-10). Significantly, Meath outscored Dublin 5-1 in the last ten minutes of the half.
Though Brian Fenton hit a Dublin point with 14 seconds of the resumption, a brace of Meath frees and Shane Walsh’s fourth point from play made it a one-point game in the 43rd minute. Dublin’s indiscipline and an uncharacteristic tendency to give the ball away left Meath looking the better side, but their failure to take their goal chances totally underlined their efforts.
They fluffed another chance in the 46th minute after Cillian O’Sullivan put Shane Walsh through but his effort hit the side-netting. Cluxton deserved credit for how rapidly he advanced off his line.
Having lost Jonny Cooper through injury, Dublin were fortunate not to lose John Small, who somehow escaped a second booking for a challenge on Menton. But at the second half water break Dublin still led 1-3 to 0-14 courtesy of two Rock frees.
In the final quarter Dublin essentially played keep ball for long spells which frustrated Meath and their scoring rate finally improved as they outscored the Royals 5-4 in the closing minutes to win by four which did scant justice to Meath’s effort.
Scorers: Dublin: D Rock 1-8 (5f), C O’Callaghan C Kilkenny 0-4 (1m) 0-4 each, B Fenton and P Small 0-2 each.
Meath: T O’Reilly 0-6 (6f), S Walsh 0-4, C O’Sullivan 0-3 (2f), J Morris 0-2, B Menton, E Harkin, B Conlon, J Conlon 0-1 each.
Dublin: S Cluxton; M Fitzsimons, D Byrne, C Murphy, J Cooper, J Small, R McDaid; B Fenton, E O Conghaile; E Lowndes, C Kilkenny, N Scully; P Small, C O’Callaghan, D Rock. Subs: E Murchan for Cooper (46), B Howard for O Conghaile (48), C O’Sullivan for J Small (53), A Byrne for P Small (62), S Bugler for Lowndes (70)
Meath: M Brennan; D Toner, J McEntee, E Harkin, C Hickey, G McCoy, D Keogan; B Menton, R Jones; S McEntee, J Scully, E Devine; S Walsh, C O’Sullivan, T O’Reilly. Subs: J Morris for Devine (30), B Conlon for McCoy (39), D Campion for Scully (53), J Conlon for Walsh (60), D Lenihan for O’Reilly (66)
Referee: Brendan Cawley (Kildare)
WESTMEATH boss Jack Cooney admitted that there is a "big responsibility" on inter-county teams to remain accountable for their actions on and off the pitch amid spiralling numbers of Covid-19 cases.