Shaun Leonard the right man at the right time for Meath minors

He capped a terrific week with winning score to secure Meath’s first title since 1992

The Meath team celebrate their All-Ireland minor triumph. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

The Meath team celebrate their All-Ireland minor triumph. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

Meath 1-12 Tyrone 1-11

Mick O’Dwyer famously declared on TV commentary that ‘the right man has it now’ just before David Beggy kicked the winning point for Meath to wrap up the 1991 four-in-a-row series.

O’Dwyer actually thought it was Bernard Flynn initially though Beggy did the needful anyhow and, from a similar angle on the same Croke Park field 30 years later, Shaun Leonard kicked another historic point for Meath on Saturday.

There was no mistaking the wing-forward, with his distinctive long, curly hair, as he capped a terrific week with the winning score to secure Meath’s first Electric Ireland All-Ireland minor title since 1992.

The previous Saturday he was the outstanding performer in the All-Ireland semi-final win over Sligo.

Truth be told, Conor Ennis bounced the ball twice in succession during his surging run upfield which created the opening for Leonard though it wasn’t picked up on by referee Derek O’Mahoney.

There were no complaints afterwards from Tyrone either who probably figured that after kicking 14 wides, including four in a row late on when the game hung in the balance, they were their own worst enemies.

So, like 1991, the right man found possession at the right time?

“I think so, yeah,” smiled Meath manager Cathal O Bric. “He scored two points against Sligo and was Man of the Match in that game. He’s the kind of guy you’d trust. I know he put one wide from that position earlier in the half with the outside of the right boot.

“This time, he had gotten himself a little closer to goal, about 25 metres out and yeah, you’d always back him with that.

“He has the confidence in himself and we’d have the confidence in him that when he’d get himself into that position, he’d be able to finish off the chance.”

Meath arrived armed with a simple plan to put Tyrone under more pressure than they’d experienced at any stage in the championship so far. They’d had 53 points to spare in the Ulster championship and had carved up Cork in the All-Ireland semi-finals, winning that one by 14.

“They hadn’t been in that situation before, they were chasing the game and because of that I think maybe lads who’d normally be comfortable slipping the ball over the bar, it just didn’t work out that way for them,” said O Bric.

Meath led by a point at half-time and by three at the second water break but the sides were level on eight occasions overall and it always looked like going the distance.

Ennis, captain Liam Kelly, Tomas Corbett and Jack Kinlough had strong games for the tough tackling Royals while Oisin O Murchu, sent off against Sligo, bounced back with 1-2.

O Murchu’s 13th minute goal came from a turnover on a Tyrone kick-out and cancelled out Cormac Devlin’s earlier three-pointer for the Ulster champions.

O Murchu and Hughie Corcoran had third quarter goal chances for Meath but it was Tyrone that were the more wasteful overall, shooting nine second-half wides.

Conor Owens contributed 1-10 as a substitute in Tyrone’s previous four games and levelled the game up at 1-11 apiece in the 63rd minute.

After Leonard’s point, Owens won a free himself and took the kick but it sailed wide into the Davin End.

“I don’t think there’d have been too many footballers, senior men and all, who would have ran in to take that ball off Conor to hit the free,” said Tyrone manager Gerard Donnelly.

“The bravery of him to hit it, and 99 times out of 100 it goes over the bar. It’s disappointing but I have absolutely nothing but respect for how brave he was to take that shot.”

MEATH: O McDermott (0-2, two 45s); C Ennis, T Corbett, L Kelly; S O’Hare, J O’Regan, K Smyth; P Wilson, J Kinlough (0-1); S Leonard (0-2), S Emmanuel (0-1), C McWeeney (0-1); C Finlay, O O Murchu (1-2), H Corcoran (0-3, one free).

Subs: A Moore for McWeeney (53 mins); J Foley for Corcoran (58); B O’Halloran for Kelly (61).

TYRONE: N Robinson; M Mallon, C Kelly, M Rafferty; H Cunningham (0-1, free), R Fox, S O’Hare; R Donnelly, R McHugh (0-2); G Potter, R Strain, P McCann; R Cassidy (0-3, two frees), C Devlin (1-1), E McElholm (0-2).

Subs: C Owens (0-2, two frees) for Potter (h/t), J Martin for Donnelly (32-f/t, blood), N Grimes for McCann (47), B Hampsey for McHugh (57-59, blood), R Molloy for Cunningham (57).

Referee: D O’Mahoney (Tipperary).

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