Controlled Meath performance keeps dogged Louth at bay

Winners move on to a Leinster semi-final against champions Dublin with a comfortable win

Meath 0-20 Louth 1-13

Meath completed a perfunctory dispatch of Louth in Parnell Park, Dublin, on Sunday afternoon. They will have been glad of that prosaic outcome given their experiences of the helter-skelter ‘classic’ genre in last year’s championship although mindful of the fact that as in that fateful match against Westmeath 12 months ago, they were out-scored in the second half of a match for which they had looked the better team for long periods.

A failure to make the most of scoring opportunities, especially in the first half, compounded by Louth’s dogged refusal to go away even when they clearly weren’t going to win made the result a slightly distorted four-point win.

Yet it was all the better for Mick O'Dowd's team that they did have to keep going as the immediate words on most Meath lips afterwards concerned the need to step up against Dublin, whose tyranny in Leinster has turned matches between the counties from box-office rivalry into anxious touchstones of comparative inferiority.


O’Dowd was reluctantly satisfied afterwards, bemoaning the missed scoring chances, and focusing on the imminent semi-final.

“Yes, the first half I thought we were in control, in control defensively. We didn’t really concede any goal scoring chances. I thought our finishing poor in the first half. We could have got a lot more scores we could have got a lot more scores.

“The second half I thought a big impact on the game was Donnacha Tobin’s injury. We had good shape there and his loss, he’s very experienced. We don’t have loads of experience around our defence but he’s one of them and he did a really good job on Jim McEneaney.

"We have the All-Ireland champions, the benchmark for everyone in the country, to come."

As if for verification, it had been McEneaney who scored the goal that trimmed the deficit in the 64th minute to 1-11 to 0-18 - the big centre forward slaloming through the defence in a manner that Tobin hadn’t been allowing and banging in the only goal of the match.

Louth set up defensively to try to limit Meath and had some good displays among their backs. Derek Maguire and Patrick Reilly raced around putting out fires, the former getting in a good block on Dalton McDonagh on half an hour and the latter persevering in injury time to prevent replacement Donal Lenihan getting in a one-on-one shot against goalkeeper Craig Lynch.

The problem for the underdogs was that in the first half their generally impressive two-man full-forward line of Conor Grimes and Ryan Burns were not alone well marked by Micky Burke and Donal Keogan but were also completely isolated tactically with Meath's withheld cover defence cutting out most of the optimistic ball hit in their direction before they even had a chance to take on their markers.

Meath on the other hand were able to find space even in a well supplemented defence. The pace of Eamon Wallace created sufficient openings for him to bag four first-half points whereas the movement and thoughtful distribution of Cillian O'Sullivan, marking a long-awaited and injury-delayed championship debut with two points and a number of assists, was another thorn on Louth's side.

In the second half Louth pushed forward but frequently their build-up was so ponderous and lateral that the winners had plenty of time to funnel back and re-set the defence.

Meath’s speed and composure on the break meant that even when Louth trimmed the margin in the second half, they were able to exploit the numbers going forward by productively counter attacking. Michael Newman’s return from the placed ball - a total of 0-7 - also kept his team bobbing along in front.

The match had been evenly contested on the scoreboard for much of the first half - Anthony Williams's good support play yielding the Louth wing back two points and a couple of frees from James Califf and Burns keeping the team in touch. Meath went up the gears before half-time, finding accuracy and shooting three points in a row that took the deficit to five at the break, 0-11 to 0-6.

Louth’s greater attack orientation actually got the margin down to two but Meath simply reeled off the next four points and the verdict never looked in serious peril.

“We were climbing the ladder a good bit today and it was probably like a middleweight going up to play a heavyweight and we probably just couldn’t deal with their pace and power early on, but we got to terms with it and just fell short,” was the reaction of Louth manager Colin Kelly whose team must travel to take on Derry in the qualifiers next Saturday.

MEATH: 1 Paddy O'Rourke; 2 Donnacha Tobin, 3 Donal Keogan, 4 Mickey Burke; 5 Darragh Smyth, 6 Pádraic Harnan, 7 Alan Douglas; 8 Harry Rooney, 9 Andrew Tormey (0-3); 10 Cian O'Brien (0-1), 11 Graham Reilly (0-3), 12 Cillian O'Sullivan (0-2); 13 Eamon Wallace (0-4), 14 Dalton McDonagh, 15 Michael Newman (0-7, six frees, one 45).

Subs: 20 Cathal Finn for Tobin (49 mins), 17 Bryan McMahon for McDonagh (56 mins), 19 Donal Lenihan for Tormey (62 mins), 18 Seán Tobin for Reilly (67 mins).

LOUTH: 1 Craig Lynch; 2 Pádraig Rath, 3 Patrick Reilly, Kevin Toner; 5 Derek Maguire, 6 Darran McMahon, 7 Anthony Williams (0-2); 8 James Stewart, James Califf (0-4, two frees, a 45); 10 Declan Byrne (0-2), 11 Jim McEneaney (1-0), 12 Conal McKeever; 13 Bevan Duffy (0-1), 14 Conor Grimes, 15 Ryan Burns (0-4, three frees).

Subs: 22 Ruiari Moore for Duffy (black card, 35 mins), 25 Eoghan Lafferty for McMahon (45 mins), 23 Adrian Reid for McKeever (53 mins), 17 John Bingham for Toner (58 mins), 24 Gerard McSorley for Byrne (68 mins).

Referee: Pádraig Hughes (Armagh).

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times