Meath lay marker to win O'Byrne Cup
Meath 2-06 Westmeath 0-11
Sean Boylan's Meath made clear their footballing intentions for 2004 by defeating a hotly-tipped Westmeath side to capture the O'Byrne Cup.
Before a record capacity of 14,610 at Mullingar's Cusack Park, the Royals ground out a victory in what was a highly contested game. Smarter use of possession, coupled with a series of crucial Westmeath wides at the close, was enough to ensure Meath O'Byrne Cup victory for the seventh time.
The sides were evenly matched for much of the first half, although weaknesses in the Westmeath full back line were cruelly exposed by the Meath high ball. One such episode led to Shane McKeigue scoring the first Meath goal after 11 minutes, which was followed by a second from Niall Kelly ten minutes later.
Westmeath pointed to stay in touch, leading to a half time score of 2-2 to 0-5.
Paidi O'Se's half time talk seemed to have some effect on the men in maroon, and they came out for the second half determined to match Meath's physical prowess.
The physical battle soon boiled over. A foul on Denis Glennon led to a ten-player melee, which took referee Mick Monaghan eight minutes to sort out and led to the stretchering-off of Westmeath's Derek Johnson.
The renewed focus of the Westmeath side saw them slowly point their way within touching distance of the Royals, with Joe Fallon (five points) coming in for some mention for his display in the forward line.
As the game dragged into nine minutes of stoppage time, Paidi's men had three clear-cut chances on which to draw the match, but wilted under the pressure, not to mention the consistently tough Meath tackling.
It finished 2-06 to 0-11 in favour of Sean Boylan's side, who have now set down a marker for their League ambitions, and beyond, this year. The outcome was also a rap on the knuckles of sorts for Paidi O'Se and his ever-threatening Westmeath side - the Meath incumbents will not be displaced yet.
In the days other fixtures, Limerick won the McGrath Cup in Ennis, defeating Clare by 1-09 to 1-06 after extra time.
In the McKenna Cup semi-final in Clones, Donegal progressed through to the final, defeating Down by 3-08 to 1-11.