Late point gives Meath deserved draw in thriller

 

Although they had to wait until the 59th minute for under-21 player Ray Magee to kick the match-levelling point, Meath fully deserved a draw against Donegal at Ballyshannon yesterday, where both sides contributed handsomely to a pulsating game. Five thousand spectators anticipated a competitive clash between the two unbeaten teams in Section B and the match lived up to expectations, as two remarkably fit sides traded score for score in a particularly memorable second half.

Meath, in stark contrast to Donegal, played direct and simple balls forward to Ollie Murphy and were perhaps unlucky not to return home with a win, Murphy and Evan Kelly squandering good goal chances in the second half.

For 20 minutes Donegal's favourite son, Tony Boyle, threatened to dismantle Sean Boylan's rebuilt Meath defence. Winning the ball at his ease ahead of Enda McManus, Boyle forced errors and punished them from the placed ball, finishing top scorer with five points, four from frees.

In a telling development, veterans Brian Murray (Donegal) and P J Gillic (Meath) were both substituted, and it was the new blood, most notably Jim McGuinness for Donegal, who made the telling midfield contribution. Donegal manager Declan Bonner astutely moved Noel Hegarty to midfield in the final stages of the game, and he added renewed bite to a sector where Meath were beginning to show greater sharpness.

Although five of the six Meath forwards who started scored, the loss through flu of Tommy Dowd denied the visiting team scoring penetration, particularly in the second half when they amassed five of their eight wides.

With tackling totally committed and yet only 43 frees over the hour, there was a competitive, almost frenetic edge to every contest, but in the first quarter Donegal displayed clinical finishing and led 0-3 to 0-1.

A Jody Devine point drew Meath to within a point and then an opportunist finish by Kelly gave Meath a vital goal. Threatening to overrun Donegal, Graham Geraghty swaggered through from centre half back to score the game's best point and leave Meath 1-4 to 0-4 ahead.

Donegal regrouped: Brendan Devenney drove for a goal when he might have pointed, and the ball fell kindly to John Duffy, who ushered it to the net first time.

Level at half time, 1-4 each, the game had found its tone and travelled on, score for score, in a memorable final 13 minutes; Meath forward Magee tapping over that vital levelling point with a minute to go.

Donegal: P Callaghan; E Reddin, J Doherty, N McGinley; M Crossan, N Hegarty, D Diver; J McGuinness, B Murray; S Carr, A Sweeney, B Roper; J Duffy (1-1, free), T Boyle (0-5, four frees), B Devenney (0-2). Subs: B McLoughlin for Carr (half-time), J Ruane for Murray (39 mins), J Scanlon for McLoughlin (51 mins).

Meath: C O'Sullivan; D Curtis, E McManus, H Traynor; C Coyle, G Geraghty (0-1), P Reynolds; N Nestor, P J Gillic; R Magee (0-2), T Giles (0-1), J Devine (0-2), E Kelly (1-0), S Dillon, O Murphy (0-2). Sub: B Reilly for Gillic, (49 mins).

Referee: M Curley (Galway).