Royals leave room for improvement as Sugrue rues missed opportunities
Meath 3-13 Laois 0-11
Meath reached their first Leinster final in five years at Croke Park yesterday which, after a spring that brought a long-awaited promotion, leaves them firmly in bonus territory whatever happens in a fortnight's time.
While they won this eventually with plenty to spare, a performance of this fitful nature will see them demolished when they face Dublin.
"Certainly wasn't a perfect performance," admitted manager Andy McEntee afterwards, "there's loads of things on which we can improve."
He admitted that the scoreboard flattered his side with Meath only two points in front when they won a penalty in first-half injury-time after a mis-hit by Michael Newman was gathered by Donal Keogan who was bundled over. Newman struck the penalty expertly and Meath led by five points at the interval without breaking too much of a sweat.
Laois, missing their full-back Mark Timmons and with Colm Begley not starting after going off injured against Westmeath, were unable to offer much punch up front but benefited from the first-half arrival of Donie Kingston from the bench.
He replaced a misfiring Evan O'Carroll (of Laois' six first-half wides, four were his including a 20-metre free badly miscued). Kingston brought surer direction and intelligence to the Laois attacking sector and was denied a goal of his own on the hour mark with Laois seven points adrift, Andrew Colgan saving well.
In the opening minutes of the second half there were goal attempts by Kingston's brother Paul, struck straight at Colgan, and a thunderous shot from Colm Murphy that came back off the underside of the Meath crossbar.
"We got two points and had chances to claw it back, and didn't execute them," said Laois manager John Sugrue. But, visibly disappointed, he wasn't looking for excuses. "The scoreboard doesn't lie, 11 points is a good beating. We can't hide from that now, we have to take it on the chin and try to get ourselves back to the training ground for the qualifiers."
For Meath, slow to get going in both halves, Keogan had another big match and midfielder Bryan Menton burst through for two inspirational goals. The first came after Laois had tied the game at 0-5 apiece by the half-hour mark, settling after wasting a number of early scoring chances.
Cillian O'Sullivan released Menton and he made fast ground before hitting a low shot past Graham Brody. Undaunted, Kingston pointed from play and set up another for Daniel O'Reilly, O'Sullivan responding for Meath. Two points off, Laois were unfortunate to concede the penalty when they did.
"I felt at that stage we had battled well, despite not playing well, to keep ourselves in the game," said Sugrue. "The penalty came out of nothing really, there wasn't a whole pile of creativity, I thought. And next thing you wind up with a goal happening out of nowhere."
But instead of giving Meath the impetus needed, leading 2-6 0-7 at the interval, they restarted tamely and invited Laois on to them.
They were dangerous in the first half when they attacked Laois directly and O'Sullivan had a goal chance that he dragged wide after a penetrating run. Their stand-out forward though was a player making his first championship start, James Conlon, who kicked four first-half points and added a fifth in the second half. He had impressed when sprung in the recent wins over Carlow and Offaly.
"That's been coming," said McEntee of the 21-year-old. "He's been very patient. He's been showing very well in training pretty much all year. We just felt the way he'd been going in training that he'd earned his stripes."
Meath brought Ronan Ryan, another late addition, back to play as a sweeper, and took the lead when corner-back Seamus Lavin hared up the field to score, receiving a Keogan pass, in the second minute.
Laois took 15 minutes to score and their first from play, finished by Murphy, was their best of the day in the 22nd minute. The influential John O'Loughlin fielded a Laois kick-out, fed Patrick O'Sullivan who released Murphy for a fine score.
They restarted the second half the better side, Kingston pointing twice, and rattling Laois with the goal chances that fell to Kingston's brother and Murphy. Meath settled with scores from Newman, a free on 50 minutes their first of the second half, and a nice finish by O'Sullivan. In between, Kieran Lillis blazed a goal attempt wide from an optimistic position. Kingston and O'Sullivan exchanged points before Bryan McMahon, set up by Graham Reilly, opened a six-point lead, 2-10 to 0-10, in the 57th minute. Conlon's fifth point widened the gap to seven and Colgan's save from Kingston on the hour seemed to drain the last vestiges of will from Laois.
Less than a minute later, Menton was on the end of a intricate Meath move and he produced a terrific shot to beat Brody.
Scorers - Meath: B Menton 2-0; J Conlon 0-5; M Newman 1-1 (1-0 pen, 1f); C O'Sullivan 0-3; G Reilly, S Lavin, B McMahon, D Keogan 0-1. Laois: D Kingston 0-4 (2fs); E O'Carroll 0-3 (3fs); C Murphy 0-2; D O'Reilly, R Munnelly 0-1.
Meath - A Colgan 8; S Lavin 8, C McGill 8, S Gallagher 6; J McEntee 7, D Keogan 9, G McCoy 7; B Menton 8, A Flanagan 6; C O'Sullivan 8, B McMahon 6, B Brennan 5; R Ryan 7, M Newman 6, J Conlon 9. Subs: G Reilly 7 for McCoy (48); S McEntee 7 for Flanagan (52); S Tobin 6 for Brennan (54); T O'Reilly for Newman (64); T McGovern 7for Gallagher (66), E Devine 6 for Menton (69).
Laois - G Brody 7; S Attride 5, D Booth 7, G Dillon 7; S O'Flynn 6, R Pigott 7, P O'Sullivan 6; J O'Loughlin 8, K Lillis 7; D O'Reilly 6, C Boyle 6, D O'Connor 6; P Kingston 6, C Murphy 8, E O'Carroll 5. Subs: D Kingston 8 for O'Carroll (29); M Scully 6 for Boyle (46); T Collins 6 for O'Flynn (54); E Lowry 6 for O'Reilly & R Munnelly 7 for O'Connor (both 58); B Quigley 6 for Lillis (64).
REF - J McQuillan (Cavan)