Meath pip Louth to reach O’Byrne Cup final
Real battle for Mick O’Dowd’s men as unexpected Louth comeback falls just short
Louth’s Barry Flanagan and Barry Tormey of Meath tussle for the ball during the O’Byrne Cup semi-final at Drogheda. Photograph: Ciaran Culligan/Inpho
Meath 0-11 Louth 0-10
A curious Bórd na Móna O’Byrne Cup semi-final ended in a deserved win for Meath in Drogheda’s Gaelic Grounds on Sunday but the winners made peculiarly hard work of it.
Having moved five ahead, 0-8 to 0-3, in the opening minutes of the second half, Meath played as if their attention had wandered off down the road home and wasted a succession of chances – wides and the occasional shot dropped short – until the apparent reluctance to settle proceedings drew a response from the home side.
After playing second fiddle for most of the match up until then, Louth responded with a sequence of scores that cut the margin to one, 0-8 to 0-7, by the 49th minute. On two further occasions the deficit would be cut to a single point but they appeared to freeze on the verge of equalising and couldn’t get back on level terms.
One example of the problem was the wides’ count. By the 56th minute Louth had kicked none and even if that hadn’t been an unqualified commendation during a first half of less than piercing attacks, the statistic was indicative of good shooting in the third quarter.
Jim McEneaney was the first to blink when missing a 56th-minute free. But no sooner had this happened than the spell was broken and Louth appeared as hell-bent on matching Meath’s inaccuracies as well as their scoreboard total.
The visitors were under severe pressure in the final quarter after Barry Tormey picked up a 52nd-minute red card for hitting McEneaney a clatter in view of a linesman.
“I’m delighted that’s the type of game it was, now that we’ve won it,” said Meath manager Mick O’Dowd.
“But it was very tight. With five, 10 minutes to go Louth had chances which they didn’t take.
“I’m proud the way the lads dug out a win after being a man down for a good part of the second half. I’m disappointed that when we were four points up at the start of the second half, we didn’t kick on and kill the game. We had chances but didn’t turn them into scores. We took the wrong option at times and our shot selection wasn’t great.
“The important thing was that we won and we’re in the final.”
Louth actually started with greater purpose than their opponents whose superiority on paper wasn’t immediately translating onto the unseasonally lush grass.
Apart though from an early free from McEneaney, the bright opening wasn’t turned into scores and eventually Mickey Newman, whose shooting was a bit rusty, landed a couple of points to get Meath started.
Although Louth did well on their restarts, they didn’t attack with any great accuracy in the use of the ball and their deployment of a sweeper allowed great latitude to Meath to counter-attack with Donal Keoghan and Cathal Finn effective in turning defence into attack and Graham Reilly, starting at centrefield, breaking forward.
Their response was impressive in the third quarter.
Tommy Durnin and Declan Byrne kicked two points each, as they outscored Meath by 0-6 to 0-2 to reduce the margin to its minimum.
But they just couldn’t close the gap and the winners did just enough to hold on.
“The important thing was that we were very competitive right through the O’Byrne Cup,” was the reaction of Louth manager Colin Kelly. “It’s a pity we didn’t get another game next Sunday.
“We got a good start but we lagged a bit after that. That might be down to inexperience. Meath were breaking us down on the counter – they’re operating two divisions above so it was always going to be hard for us.”
He wasn’t particularly exercised by the GAA Central Council proposal to confine Division Four counties to a B championship once they get beaten in their province.
“No one wants to be operating where we’re operating. That’s the reality of it. Whatever decisions they make, we’ll get on with it,” said the Louth manager.
A minute’s silence was observed before the throw-in as a mark of respect to both Christy Tormey, father of Meath player Andrew who had been named to play in the match, and brother of county chair Conor, and George Yeates, father of former Meath manager Seán Boylan’s wife Tina.
MEATH: P O’Rourke; B Tormey, D Keoghan (capt.), D Smyth; A Douglas, M Burke, C Finn (0-1); H Rooney, G Reilly (0-1); S Tobin (0-2, one free), C O’Sullivan (0-1), C Downey (0-1); M Newman (0-5, three frees, one 45), D McDonagh, D Lenihan. Subs: S McEntee for Lenihan (41 mins), P Harnan for Tobin (56 mins), J O’Reilly for Downey (59 mins), R Ó Cuilleann for McDonagh (67 mins), P Geraghty for O’Sullivan (71 mins), P Kinnelly for Newman (73 mins). LOUTH: C Lynch; P Rath, D Quigley, K Toner; D Maguire (0-1), D McMahon, K McLaughlin; T Durnin (0-2), J Stewart; D Byrne (0-2), C McKeever, C Bellew; A Reid (capt; 0-1), J McEnaney (0-3, two frees), B Flanagan. Subs: K Murphy for Toner (22 mins), G McSorley for Bellew (29 mins), E Lafferty for McLoughlin (black card, 35 mins), R Holcroft for Flanagan (62 mins), A Williams for Murphy (64 mins), J Califf (0-1) for McKeever (67 mins).
Referee: B Tierney (Dublin).