Dublin rally at the death to halt Royals' surge
Dublin 1-15 Meath 1-13 O'Byrne Cup semi-final
The balance of power between these great rivals has swung very much Dublin's way in recent years but Meath reminded their supporters of what it used to be like in better times as they unloaded an impressively defiant response to adversity in an absorbing second half.
Pairc Tailteann rocked to a throbbing beat over the final 25 minutes as Meath recovered from a nine-point deficit (1-11 to 0-5) to draw level with a free, which goalkeeper Paddy O'Rourke fired over from 52 metres in the 70th minute.
Meath had out-scored Dublin by 1-8 to 0-2 since the 47th minute, leaving them looking like the more likely side to snatch a winner. Failing that, extra-time seemed on the agenda.
However, there was a decisive momentum switch in the two minutes of stoppage time as Dublin added two points from sub Philip Ryan and Eoghan O'Gara, who took his yield for the day to 1-2.
It spoiled the day for Meath supporters in the 7,500 crowd (the throw-in was delayed for 10 minutes to facilitate the large numbers) but when they reflect on the positive aspects of the performance, it will leave them optimistic about the upcoming National League Division 2 campaign.
"I was delighted with how we played for much of the second half," said Meath manager Mick O'Dowd. "We opened up the shoulders and went at it, which we didn't do in the first half. There was some heroic defending going on and while I wasn't happy with our forward play in the first half, it improved a lot in the second."
There was, in fact, no comparison between how Meath performed for the first 45 minutes and the remainder of a game which was played at a higher intensity than is normal for this time of year. But then, this was Dublin v Meath, a rivalry steeped so deep in competitive instinct that even a pre-season clash offers exciting possibilities.
It kept Wicklow referee Anthony Nolan busy, for while the overall mood was good, there was too much niggly fouling, prompting him to award 53 frees, 29 in the first half. He also noted six bookings.
"It was a great game for this time of year. Both managers and teams would have learned about themselves in some way," said Dublin boss Jim Gavin.
Dublin discovered that a nine-point lead guarantees nothing unless the fundamentals which established it are maintained. O'Gara's 43rd minute goal appeared to put Dublin in an unassailable position against opposition whose attack had made no progress up to then.
They had scored only five points, while also missing some good chances with inaccurate finishing (six wides in the first half). Also, it was deeply frustrating for O'Dowd to watch the Dublin defenders frequently dispossess Meath forwards with relative ease.
Dublin led by 0-9 to 0-5 at the interval but should have been further ahead. O'Gara had two goal-bound shots blocked, the second an especially fine save by Paddy O'Rourke, who deflected the ball out for a 45, which Dean Rock pointed.
It was one of eight points (0-3 from open play) by Rock, who together with O'Gara and Kevin McManamon did well in attack. However, once Meath asserted themselves around midfield - newcomers Harry Rooney and Adam Flanagan did very well - in the second half, traffic volume towards the Dublin goal increased significantly.
The switch in momentum was underlined by a phase, during which the free count was 12-0 to the Royals.
Meath's goal came in the 60th minute, expertly finished by sub Mickey Newman.
A point from Rock was Dublin's only score between the 43rd and 60th minute, at which stage they led by two points before O'Rourke pointed twice to draw Meath level.
It was to Dublin's great credit that having been overrun for long periods in the second half, they regained the initiative in stoppage time, enabling them to set up two points.
"We're looking for players with big character when questions are asked of them," said Gavin.
"That has happened in the last two games and thankfully the response has been quite positive."
Meath's gritty recovery will leave them feeling a whole lot better about themselves than seemed likely early in the second half.
Two pointed frees from Sean Tobin launched a revival which O'Dowd hopes will be the new starting point for the Division 2 campaign, which begins away to Galway on Sunday week.
"We started a team today that had seven fellas who were not involved in last year's Championship. What we're trying to do is build a base of players that can compete at this level. Overall, you'd have to be very proud of the second-half display," said O'Dowd.
It leaves Meath well primed for the final stages of their preparation for the league, while Dublin will head for Newbridge on Sunday seeking their first silverware of the new season.
"Once you're in a final, you want to win but it will be tough against Kildare," said Gavin. The manner in which his squad kept their nerve in the closing minutes will have pleased him but the earlier fall-off won't.
"There's great resolve and great character in this team - that was demonstrated there today.
"Some players have joined the squad over the last month and for them to buy into that culture is a real positive," he added.
On the question of Alan Brogan's future, he said that it would be decided over the next few weeks.
Scorers - Dublin: D Rock 0-8 (4f, 1 '45'), E O'Gara 1-2, S Carthy 0-2, E O Conghaile, K McManamon, P Ryan 0-1 each.
Meath: M Newman 1-1, S Tobin (3f), P O'Rourke (2 '45s, 1f)) 0-3 each; B Menton, G Reilly 0-2 each, J Queeney, M Burke 0-1 each.
Dublin - L Molloy; E Culligan, R O'Carroll, D Daly; N Devereux, J Small, J Cooper; D Bastick, S Carthy; T Brady, D Rock, E O Conghaile; K McManamon, E O'Gara, C Costelloe. Subs: M Fitzsimons for Daly (ht), MD Macauley for Bastick (ht), J McCaffrey for Carthy (42), P Ryan for Costello (45), S Lowndes for Brady (48).
Meath - P O'Rourke; D Tobin, C McGill, D Dalton; N Judge, D Keogan, B Menton; H Rooney, A Flanagan; G Reilly, S Bray, J Wallace; S Tobin, J Queeney, R O'Dowd. Subs: M Burke for Dalton (13), C McConnell for Judge (ht), A Tormey for O'Dowd (ht), M Newman for Queeney (53), S Carty for Tobin (56), D Bray for S Bray (65).
Ref - A Nolan (Wicklow).