Meath will look to win midfield battle


LEINSTER SFC FINAL - LOUTH V MEATH:IN A season of novelty provincial finals this one gets the rosette. A gripping rivalry from the 1950s when both counties won All-Irelands, it has been surprisingly resurrected in tomorrow’s final, Louth’s first since 1960.

Both sides are there on merit and if Louth’s side of the draw was easier that’s partly because they made it so by eliminating last year’s finalists and fancied contenders Kildare. That win over Kildare together with Meath’s demolition of Dublin proves the credentials of the finalists, as the two wins featured the best displays of attacking football seen in the province this season.

Meath’s capabilities in attack rest on having their best players available and fit. Joe Sheridan is having the most sustained season of his career and they all have been contributing. Stephen Bray put in a barnstorming performance against Dublin, as good as in his All Star season three years ago. The work-rate of Séamus Kenny the last day was vital, given the battering the centrefield supply lines were taking, and on the other wing Graham Reilly’s pace and finishing were stand-out features of the first Laois match.

Centrefield will be a swing constituency. Louth have played very well here albeit hardly against the most demanding of opponents. Meath have done poorly. If the return of Nigel Crawford gives the favourites some sort of parity it will be bad news for Louth given the power of the Meath forwards.

In Louth’s favour has been their impressive scoring and composure. If we except the opening round against Longford, Louth have been in the position of worried underdogs in both of their last outings but on each occasion held firm to see off Kildare and even more impressively Westmeath. In terms of scoring they might be a goal a game less productive than Meath, but Louth are averaging nearly 20 points a match and during the league were the second highest goal scorers.

The most significant battle will come in the cockpit around the middle, as Meath try to counteract Louth’s potential centrefield advantage by creating and winning breaks.

LOUTH:N Gallagher; E McAuley, D Finnegan, J O’Brien; R Finnegan, M Fanning, R Greene; P Keenan, B White; A McDonnell, M Brennan, A Reed; C Judge, S Lennon, JP Rooney.

MEATH:B Murphy; C OConnor, K Reilly, E Harrington; A Moyles, G OBrien, C King; B Meade, N Crawford; S Kenny, J Sheridan, G Reilly; C Ward, S ORourke, S Bray.

Referee:Martin Sludden (Tyrone).

In the last episode:Four years ago in a Leinster preliminary round Meath, with Joe Sheridan scoring 1-1, were comfortable winners and Louth have to go back 35 years for their last win over the neighbours, a 0-15 to 1-9 victory that featured seven points from Tony Hoey, father of recent Louth star Aaron.

On your marks:Nigel Crawford is back to bolster Meath’s centrefield and his experience will be needed against the high performing pairing of Paddy Keenan and Brian White.

Gaining ground:Croke Park is a familiar venue for this fixture but Meath haven’t had two wins at the venue in the same Leinster championship since winning the title nine years ago. It was the venue for the last Louth win over Meath in 1975.

You bet:Meath 2 to 9, Louth 4 to 1 and the draw 9 to 1 (70 minutes).

Just the ticket:Stand (€35 – no concessions in Hogan), family tickets for the Cusack and Davin (adults €35 and children €5). Terrace (€20 – no concessions). Students and OAPs €15 rebate.

Crystal gazing:Meath to bridge the shorter gap.