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Dubs forced to go extra mile on victory march

ECHOES of '66 and '91 fluttered across the mind at Parnell Park on Saturday night.

Kenneth Wolstenholme's famous line in the 1966 World Cup final "they think it's all over..." was applicable near the end when Dublin were ahead by six points with five minutes of normal time left to play. And then the inner video screen switched to 1991, and Meath, down and out, powering home in a late, late comeback to win the epic four-match Leinster championship first-round series.

In the January 29 2011 version, Wolstenholme's "it is now" addendum to his above comment, relating to the finality of Geoff Hurst's clinching score, only became relevant at the finish of a 91-minute marathon when the Dubs edged home by two points.

Let's not get carried away. It's early in the year. In every sense the two sides are far from championship readiness in terms of fitness and personnel but, hey, this was grand entertainment for the crowd of around 2,000.

The two managers were delighted as well. Pat Gilroy and Seamus McEnaney couldn't have asked for a better test before their opening league games against Armagh and Laois respectively.

"That game was played at some pace for a January O'Byrne Shield match. It could have gone either way today, so that's better than 10 training sessions. Very, very useful," said Gilroy.

The two sides went at it hammer and tongs for the duration. The game had a bit of everything as the statistics reveal. The home side got 18 scores and kept the wide count to a dozen. They used all 26 players, some of them twice, due to extra-time and the archaic GAA rule that extra-time is treated as a new match.

Meath employed 22 players -- again, some of them twice -- notched up 16 scores and kicked 17 wides. Referee Sean Carroll gave the yellow card to four Dubs and eight Meath players but did well to keep control of a match that was competitive and physically hard.

All in all, it was great value for money. Meath's Brian Farrell and Shane O'Rourke slotted over points within the first minute to set the tone, and Kevin McManamon opened Dublin's account in the third minute.


Bernard Brogan scored the first of his four points -- all from frees -- in the fifth minute and a Graham Cullen punched point, when a Mossie Quinn attempt from a free dropped short, put the Dubs ahead for the first time after 10 minutes. O'Rourke levelled the scores at 0-3 each in the 13th minute. The teams were to be level just twice more, at 0-4 each on 19 minutes and crucially at 1-13 each two minutes into time added on at the end of the game.

The goals proved significant for both sides. Dublin's first came in the 20th minute when Mossie Quinn finished off a Dean Kelly-Bernard Brogan move.

Joe Sheridan and Shane O'Rourke got plenty of possession but their laser-guided systems were in 'off' mode for most of the match. Sheridan had five wides, including a '45', and O'Rourke missed five chances as well, including two from frees, yet they managed to score 2-2 and 0-4 respectively.

Neither player, nor their team-mates got disheartened, but Dublin were well worth their 1-9 to 0-7 half-time lead. Dublin's half-forward line of Dean Kelly, Kevin McManamon and Diarmuid Connolly had offered a decent platform for the Brogan, Graham Cullen and Quinn full-forward line, with Denis Bastick and Colm Murphy sparing no effort in midfield. Meath's midfield and attack contains lots of height which gave the Dublin defenders a serious challenge when the high ball was played in, but the Blues' back six applied as much pressure as often as they could.

Most of the second half was scrappy, and possibly the arrival of subs on both sides was part of that as players adjusted to the pace. Dublin managed only four more points, scored by McManamon, Brogan (free), Quinn and sub Bryan Cullen between the 40th and the 65th minute to bring them to 1-13.

Meath upped their work rate and in the last 10 minutes of the half began to look more dangerous, although it took them half an hour to add three more points. Sub Graham Reilly and O'Rourke (two) brought them to 0-10 with five minutes left. Game over? Oh no, not where Meath are concerned. Dublin's Darren Daly conceded a penalty in the 66th minute and Sheridan crashed the ball into the net.

And in a helter-skelter final closing surge, Meath's Cian Ward, Conor Gillespie and Paddy Gilsenan scored the points to take the game into extra-time. Bernard Brogan and Paddy Andrews combined to give Bryan Cullen a goal in the first minute of extra-time, but Sheridan hit the net again at the end of the first period to level it at 2-14 each. Bernard Brogan and Andrews got the only scores in the second period to give the Dubs their first O'Byrne Shield win. The only major Dublin injury concern was Ger Brennan, who suffered an ankle injury. He is due to have a scan today.

Scorers -- Dublin: T Quinn, B Cullen 1-1 each, B Brogan O-4f, K McManamon 0-3, D Connolly 0-2, G Cullen, D Lally, D Kelly, B Cahill, P Andrews 0-1 each. Meath: J Sheridan 2-2 (1-0 pen), S O'Rourke 0-4 (1f), G Reilly, C Ward (1f) 0-2 each, D Farrell, G Reilly, C Gillespie, P Gilsenan 0-1 each.

Dublin -- S Cluxton; D Daly, S Murray, M Fitzsimons; D Lally, G Brennan, P Casey; D Bastick, C Murphy; D Kelly, K McManamon, D Connolly; B Brogan, G Cullen, T Quinn. Subs: P Flynn for D Connolly (h-t); B Cullen for K McManamon (44); A Brogan for G Cullen (51); A Hubbard for M Fitzsimons (58); B Cahill for C Murphy (58); J McCarthy for D Daly (69). Extra-time changes: M Savage for S Cluxton; P Andrews for M Quinn; M Darragh Macauley for D Bastick; W Lowry for D Kelly. Extra-time subs: C McKiernan for P Casey (82); K McManamon for B Brogan (87); M Quinn for D Lally (88); D Bastick for G Brennan (90).

Meath -- P O'Rourke; G O'Brien, K Reilly, C King; S Kenny, B Menton, C McGuinness; M Ward, C Gillespie; S McAnarney, S O'Rourke, D Morgan; P Gilsenan, J Sheridan, B Farrell. Subs: G Reilly for D Morgan (29); B Meade for K Reilly (h-t); A Moyles for M Ward (43); N Crawford for B Farrell (43); C Ward for C McGuinness (58). Extra-time subs: B Farrell for P Gilsenan (75); D Dalton for S McAnarney (82); D Keogan for S Kenny (89).

Ref -- S Carroll (Westmeath).

Irish Independent