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Meath put Dublin on the ropes after stunning fightback but fall just short

It was a brilliant second-half performance by the Royals in the Leinster SFC semi-final.

Dublin’s Con O’Callaghan and Fionn Reilly of Meath.
Dublin’s Con O’Callaghan and Fionn Reilly of Meath.
Image: Brian Reilly-Troy/INPHO

Dublin 2-16

Meath 1-13

DUBLIN LOOKED BACK into their groove when they led this Leinster semi-final by 2-11 to 0-6 at half-time, yet after a sensational Meath fightback they were within three points when five minutes of stoppage-time was announced. 

The Sky Blues were hanging on by this stage and they happily played keep ball as the Meath supporters booed the six-in-a-row All-Ireland champions. 

Dessie Farrell’s side held onto the ball for a couple of minutes when they finally worked an opening for Brian Fenton to kick the insurance score. Cormac Costello, who finished with 1-4, clipped a point before Ciaran Kilkenny hand passed over to seal the six-point win.

It was a highly unusual situation for Dublin to find themselves in. They scored just five points in the second period, and then went 15 minutes and 19 minutes without scores during that half. 

Kilkenny, Dublin’s best player, contributed a five-point haul and was the one forward who continually got himself on the ball when the tide turned against them in the second period.

Con O’Callaghan was sensation in the opening half, scoring 1-3 from play, before he was quietened after the break. Brian Fenton and James McCarthy also stood up and were counted during what turned out to be a fiery clash.

Considering the standard of the opposition this was by far the best performance of Andy McEntee’s tenure. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen Dublin struggle like this in Leinster. It was the closest any side came to them since Meath lost by three in the 2012 Leinster semi-final.

McEntee put out a side full of pace with Jordan Morris and Matthew Costello impressive up front, while the Wallace brothers Eamon and Joey had their moments. Shane McEntee was a solid presence at centre-back and Donal Keogan did well in the corner.

The Royals delivered a stunning second-half performance but ran out of steam in the closing stages. It was honest and valiant stuff from McEntee’s side, who sensed blood after they outscored Dublin by 1-7 to 0-2 between the 36 and 70th minute.

This is a result that will give plenty of encouragement to Dublin’s rivals Kerry, Mayo and Tyrone. Dublin were sloppy in their opening round eight-point win over Wexford and their second-half showing here will give plenty of cause for concern for Farrell.

He cut an animated figure during the latter period as Meath turned up the pressure and hurt the Dublin defence with their raw pace.

Stephen Cluxton’s absence from the panel has taken away from some of their mystique. The recent departures of Eric Lowndes, Cian O’Sullivan followed the exits Jack McCaffrey, Paul Mannion, Paddy Andrews and Michael Darragh Macauley.

Kevin McManamon is at the Tokyo Olympics with the Irish boxers and will rejoin the squad once he returns, but Dublin have lost a lot of experience from the dressing room in a short period of time. 

brian-fenton-and-seamus-lavin Dublin's Brian Fenton and Seamus Lavin of Meath. Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

Meath started the game in decent fashion and were trailing by 0-3 to 0-2 when they had a goal opportunity. Corner-forward Jordan Morris, one of their best players over the 70 minutes, was put through after a surging run down the middle from Cathal Hickey.

Morris dummied and saw his strike on goal saved by Evan Comerford. Meath did manage to gather the rebound and Bryan McMahon was crowded out by a host of Dublin defenders. He went down and Meath appealed for a penalty, but referee Conor Lane waved play on to the frustration of the Royals support.

Dublin counter-attacked at pace and Cormac Costello fisted over. He was celebrating a goal three minutes later after scoring a spot-kick. It arrived when Fenton was deemed to have been fouled inside the area, though appeared harsh on the Royals. 

Meath responded with a score apiece from Matthew Costello and Morris, leaving them three behind at the first water break. Dublin’s second quarter put the game to bed. They reeled off three scores through Small, Ciaran Kilkenny and Costello.

The Sky Blues were beginning to motor now and cutting through Meath with ease. A spectacular bullet to the net from the left boot of Con O’Callaghan, after he was put through by Fenton, was a dagger to Meath’s hearts.

Dublin posted four of the next six points to lead by 11 at the interval. The game looked done and dusted.

Then things started to go wrong for Dublin. If their second quarter showing was clinical, their third quarter was anything but.

Costello gave Andy McEntee’s side a dream start to the second-half when Wallace hand passed over the top. Paddy Small slipped as he attempted to cut out the pass and Costello took it around Comerford before stroking it home. 

Buoyed by their bright start, the Royals started to come out on top of the individual battles all over the field. They denied Dublin possession from kick-outs and won the breaking ball in the middle third. Unusually, Dublin looked rattled.

Dean Rock sent a 45 wide and Small did likewise from play. Cormac Costello and James McCarthy were guilty of poor kick passes that led to scores from Joey Wallace and Morris.  

Andy McEntee watched from the stand for 45 minutes or so until he resumed his place on the sideline, roaring his team on. It took Dublin 15 minutes to get their first score of the half through Kilkenny, although the Castleknock man followed that up with two misses.

At the far Meath’s pacey full-forward line trio all added scores, leaving them five behind at the second water break. 

It was a sensational response by Meath in a game that looked out of sight. As they started to look tired, McEntee ran the bench and brought on more pace.

They cut Dublin open for a glorious goal chance as Morris slipped in Ronan Jones, but his shot was straight at Comerford. Byrne and Howard combined to turn it out for a 45, that James McEntee sent over. Thomas O’Reilly won a free and pointed it himself to leave the underdogs trailing by 2-13 to 1-13 as we entered injury-time. 

With the game on the line, Dublin held onto possession and worked three scores to seal their passage into the final. 

Scorers for Dublin: Cormac Costello 1-4 (1-0 pen), Con O’Callaghan 1-3, Ciaran Kilkenny 0-5, Dean Rock 0-2 (0-1f), Brian Fenton and Paddy Small 0-1 each.

Scorers for Meath: Matthew Costello 1-2 (0-1f), Jordan Morris 0-3 (0-1f), Joey Wallace and Eamon Wallace 0-2 each, Bryan McMahon, Thomas O’Reilly, Cillian O’Sullivan and James McEntee (0-1 45) 0-1 each.

Dublin

1. Evan Comerford (Ballymun Kickhams)

2. Michael Fitzsimons (Cuala), 3. David Byrne (Naomh Olaf), 7. Seán McMahon (Raheny).

9. James McCarthy (Ballymun Kickhams), 19. Jonny Cooper (Na Fianna), 6. Brian Howard (Raheny), 

8. Brian Fenton (Raheny), 23. Peadar Ó Cofaigh-Byrne (Cuala).

13. Paddy Small (Ballymun Kickhams), 11. Ciarán Kilkenny (Castleknock), 12. Niall Scully (Templeogue Synge Street).

26. Dean Rock (Ballymun Kickhams), 14. Con O’Callaghan (Cuala), 15. Cormac Costello (Whitehall Colmcille)

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Subs

5. Tom Lahiff (St. Jude’s) for O Cofaigh Byrne (ht)

18. Sean Bugler (St Oliver Plunketts/ER) for Small (51)

10. Colm Basquel (Ballyboden St Enda’s) for Rock (62)

22. Cian Murphy (Thomas Davis) for McMahon (74)

Meath

16. Harry Hogan (Maigh Dearmhai)

2. Seamus Lavin (St Peter’s Dunboyne), 3. Conor McGill (Ratoath), 4. Donal Keogan (Rathkenny)

5. Cathal Hickey (Seneschalstown), 6. Shane McEntee (St Peter’s Dunboyne), 7. Fionn Reilly (St Colmcilles)

8. Bryan Menton (Donaghmore Ashbourne), 9, Padraic Harnan (Moynalvey)

22. Eamonn Wallace (Ratoath), 11. Bryan McMahon (Ratoath), 12. Matthew Costello (Dunshaughlin)

13. Jordan Morris (An Obair), 14. Cillian O’Sullivan (Moynalvey), 15. Joey Wallace (Ratoath) 

Subs

21. Ronan Jones (St Peter’s Dunboyne) for Reilly (29)

24. Thomas O’Reilly (Wolfe Tones) for McMahon (ht)

19. James McEntee (Curraha) for Hickey (55)

10. Ethan Devine (Na Fianna) for Costello (59)

25. James Conlon (St Colmcilles) for Eamon Wallace (65)

Referee: Conor Lane (Cork).

About the author:

Kevin O'Brien  / Reports from Croke Park

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