Royals vow to 'up it' for Dubs
REPLAYS are all about who learns more from the drawn game, and Meath certainly profited much more handsomely from their Croke Park joust six days earlier than did Laois.
The Royals let their opponents off the hook when leading by five points with 15 minutes left in normal time of the drawn game, Padraig McMahon's spectacular late goal providing the O'Moore County with the dramatic kiss of life.
But there was no such reprieve for Sean Dempsey's side in Saturday's replay at Tullamore, with Meath leaving no doubt about their superiority as they clinched a Leinster semi-final showdown with arch rivals Dublin at Croke Park on Sunday.
Two first half-goals, both by inspirational team captain Joe Sheridan, knocked the stuffing out of Laois, and helped Eamonn O'Brien's side to a 2-5 to 0-6 half-time lead.
And four points on the trot inside five minutes of the restart consolidated Meath's grip on the game, and virtually ensured that Laois would be resigned to focusing on an All-Ireland qualifiers tie against Tipperary at Semple Stadium on Saturday.
A further indication of Meath's dominance was that Laois were unable to gain any foothold even after Royals goalkeeper Paddy O'Rourke was given a straight red card for an incident involving McMahon on 53 minutes.
In addition, the Royals lost two players through injury: midfielder Mark Ward went off with an ankle problem after just 22 minutes, and centre-back Mickey Burke had to be stretchered off the pitch after sustaining a suspected fracture of the leg four minutes later.
Sheridan, who added two points to his goals, epitomised the supreme determination in the Meath camp not to allow their opponents to stage a Lazarus-like recovery for the second week on the trot.
"We were really sick after last week," said Sheridan. "We made sure there wasn't going to be a repeat today. Coming out after half-time, we were in the same position as last week, but the lads knuckled down, and it was a great performance by everyone and the work-rate was just unbelievable.
"Just after half-time, they kicked a number of wides, and we kicked three or four (points) in a row. That put us nine in front and gave us a bit of a cushion. But even when we were that far ahead, we were expecting them to come back.
"However, we felt that if we didn't concede a goal, we would win the game, and thankfully we did just that. When we went down to 14 men, everyone put their shoulder to the wheel.
"It was a good performance but we're going to have to up it to another level against Dublin. They're Leinster champions for the last five years, and we really respect them for that."
In terms of footpassing and handpassing accuracy, ability to pick up breaking ball, and options taken in possession, Meath held a distinct advantage. And another major plus for the Royals was the edge in pace that their forwards possessed over the Laois defenders.
Meath's decision to play a two-man full-forward line with Cian Ward and Shane O'Rourke caused the beleaguered O'Moore County rearguard even more problems. And the alarm bells were ringing for the losers as early as the sixth minute, when Cian Ward accelerated away from the cover to punch the ball into the goalmouth area for Sheridan to fist to the net.
Cian Ward was also involved in the build-up to the second Meath goal, lobbing the ball into the goalmouth, with Sheridan this time toe-poking to the net following a scramble.
Sheridan was a real livewire all throughout, even getting in a great block back in defence late in the second half.
Graham Reilly followed up his five-star display in the drawn game with another excellent performance, finishing with four points.
At the other end of the field, the Meath backs never allowed Donie Kingston and Co a similar degree of latitude as in the drawn tie.
Meath boss O'Brien played down his side's 10-point victory.
"The breaks went for us -- we got a couple of goals, and the breaks especially went for us for the second goal.
"After the second goal, it was going to be uphill for them, and we were in the driving seat. Things went for us and they were always chasing the game, and we were able to respond because they had to come and attack us."
Laois counterpart Dempsey said: "We're very disappointed with the end result. I don't think there was really that much daylight between the two teams. Two goals went in there tonight, and maybe that was down to poor defending.
"Meath's direct play paid off for them in that respect."
SCORERS -- Meath: J Sheridan 2-2, G Reilly 0-4, C Ward (0-1f, 0-1 '65), S O'Rourke 0-3 each, B Meade, C King 0-1 each. Laois: MJ Tierney 0-4 (0-3f), D Kingston 0-2 (0-2f), P McMahon, C Healy, D Strong, P O'Leary (0-1 '45') 0-1 each.
MEATH -- P O'Rourke 5; C O'Connor 7, K Reilly 7, E Harrington 7; A Moyles 6, M Burke 7, C King 7; B Meade 7, M Ward 6; S Kenny 7, J Sheridan 9, G Reilly 8; C Ward 8, S O'Rourke 8, S Bray 6. Subs: C Gillespie 6 for M Ward (22), O Lewis 6 for Burke (26), G O'Brien 6 for Moyles (h-t), B Murphy 7 for Bray (53), C McGuinness for Kenny (65).
LAOIS -- M Nolan 6; P O'Leary 6, M Timmons 5, P McMahon 6; C Healy 7, C Ryan 5, C Begley; B Quigley 6, K Meaney 5; J O'Loughlin 5, C Rogers 5, D Strong 5; MJ Tierney 6, D Kingston 5, R Munnelly 5. Subs: D Booth 5 for Begley (10), B Sheehan 5 for Ryan (34), P Clancy 5 for Strong (h-t), P Lawlor 5 for Rogers (49), D Rooney for Quigley (68).
REF -- M Condon (Waterford).