Meath survive marathon Clare contest to make Super 8s
Mickey Newman’s goal proves decisive as Leinster finalists hold on for one-point victory
Meath’s Michael Newman is challenged by Cillian Brennan of Clare during their tightly fought contest in Portlaoise. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Meath survived what felt like a sprint and an ultra marathon of a match to take out Clare by a single point on Sunday and make the last eight of the football championship for the first time since 2010.
In doing so they showed they have far more to offer than their Leinster final performance suggested: they finished with 10 different scorers, including goals from Bryan Menton and Mickey Newman, putting their 16-point defeat to Dublin a fortnight ago behind them. It wasn’t quite a renaissance but a minor rebirth nonetheless.
No resting on their return however – the journey promptly resuming next Sunday with a trip to Ballybofey to face Ulster champions Donegal (2pm) in the opening game of Group 1, a repeat of the Division Two league final, which Donegal won.
Meath manager Andy McEntee declined all print media interviews afterwards, possibly assuming his players had done all the talking on the field in the face of that Dublin defeat. They made plenty of errors here too, struggling sometimes with their kick-outs, but there was no arguing with the strength of their effort or will.
Newman was excellent and finished with 1-6, his goal on 41 minutes arguably the decisive score as it gave Meath the marginal advantage they held until the end. It finished his game in the process – Newman crashing into the upright immediately after putting the ball into the net. Nothing serious, thankfully.
Clare hit their only goal minutes before, Gavin Cooney sneaking under a high ball, beating goalkeeper Andrew Colgan to put them in front for the last time, 1-12 to 1-11: after Meath hit back through Newman, Clare were left playing catch up right until the end of the seven minutes’ injury time. Late scores from David Tubridy and Dermot Coughlan seeing them die of thirst just one stop short of the well.
So for Clare the journey ends with some thoughts of what might have been: manager Colm Collins, who took Clare to the last eight in 2016, was still breathless long after the final whistle. “You’d be devastated with the result, it just wasn’t to be,” he said. “The only consolation is the lads gave it everything. The one thing you dread is a team not performing, but they delivered all they had, just fell up short, and did us proud.
“We wanted to make those Super-8s, and I think when Clare are at their best, they can compete with anyone, and I think we saw that here. We played really well, but when you lose a one-point game, you could point to a number of things, but I think we matched anything Meath did, at the other, the same scores, the same mistakes, but fair play to Meath.”
Meath wing back Donal Keogan, who was influential throughout, paid tribute to Clare’s persistence: “A serious battle, they put it right up to us, until the very end. This is huge for Meath, our aim was to get promotion back to Division One, then make Super-8s, and we’re there now, and it’s important for Meath to be there.”
It was super competitive, super fast, and super close right up to the end – the one-point defeat for Clare coming after the sides had been level eight times in the first half: what ultimately held Meath through and over the line was Newman’s goal.
Still Clare kept coming in search of a late equaliser, winner even, as the clock spilled into injury time, Gary Brennan driving them forward from the engine room. Meath’s last score came from substitute Ben Brennan right on the cusp of normal time.
Meath’s first goal came as the first half just spilled over into the two minutes of injury time: Keogan’s close-up shot stopped on the line, only for Menton to deftly boot in the rebound, and Meath were up 1-9 to 0-10.
Clare’s response was superb – Gordon Kelly popping up from corner back, Jamie Malone hitting his fourth point, and it was all square again. Both teams were given a rapturous standing ovation coming off the field at half-time, and for good reason: inseparable throughout, it was end-to-end and sometimes backs to the wall too.
Gary Brennan was leading the Clare charge from midfield, commanding room and respect every time he ran down the middle, chipping in with a first-half point, Malone hit four from play in that half, each one as impressive as the next.
Their movement in possession was relentless, corner back Kelly coming up to split the posts, Cathal O’Connor and Cian O’Dea also scoring from play.
Meath gave back as good as they got, Bryan McMahon, Newman, Thomas McGovern and the lively James Conlon all scoring from play in the opening half, already double the two scorers they produced against Dublin.
This win also means Meath helped even the score in 2019, joining Cork as the beaten provincial finalists in the Super 8s, while Ulster losers Cavan and Connacht losers Galway were both sent out by round three winners Tyrone and Mayo respectively.
Meath are not in Dublin’s group so nothing to worry about there for the time being but the depth of this display suggested they should give Donegal something to think about.
MEATH: A Colgan; S Lavin, C McGill, S Gallagher; D Keogan (0-1), P Harnan (joint-capt), G McCoy; B Menton (joint-capt) (1-0), S McEntee; E Devine (0-1), B McMahon (0-1), T McGovern (0-1); C O’Sullivan (0-1), M Newman (1-6, five frees), J Conlon (0-3).
Subs: T O’Reilly for Newman (42 mins, inj), G Reilly for McGovern (44 mins), S Walsh (0-1, a free) for O’Reilly (54 mins), S Curran for Gallagher (60 mins), B Brennan (0-1) for Devine (62 mins), S Tobin for Conlon (72 mins), T O’Reilly for McMahon (black card, 74 mins)
Yellow cards: T McGovern (29 mins), D Keogan (55 mins)
CLARE: S Ryan; G Kelly (0-1), C Brennan, D Ryan; S Collins, A Fitzgerald, K Harnett; G Brennan (capt) (0-1), S O’Donoghue; C O’Connor (0-2), E Cleary (0-2, both frees), J Malone (0-4); G Cooney (1-0), D Tubridy (0-6, three frees), C O’Dea (0-1).
Subs: K Malone for O’Donoghue (47 mins), D Coughlan (0-1) for Cooney (53 mins), E O’Connor for Kelly (black card, 62 mins), G O’Brien for Ryan (64 mins), C Murray for Cleary (72 mins).
Yellow cards: J Malone (19 mins), K Harnett (22 mins), G Kelly (60 mins)
Referee: Derek O’Mahony (Tipperary)