Meath make most of penalty decision


ALL-IRELAND MFC SEMI-FINAL: Meath 2-10 Mayo 1-11:SO THAT’S another verse of Meath’s redemption song complete, and if making a first All-Ireland minor final in 10 years sounds good enough for now, it left Mayo with yet another sadly lamentable day in Croke Park.

Maybe the best thing to be said about the game is that at least it was spared extra-time – which looked inevitable – and that maybe both teams should be given the chance to start it all over again.

It’s not nice coming down hard on young players, still learning their trade, and it’s not nice when the same might be said about the grown man in the middle.

Yet when skill gives way to error, and sense yields to incredulity, it’s impossible to get too excited about the end result.

Meath haven’t made an All-Ireland minor final since 2002, and haven’t won it since 1992 (just like you know who), and their route to this one hasn’t been the most convincing: well beaten by Dublin in the Leinster final, they sneaked past Tyrone in their quarter-final, and came from well behind against Mayo here, relying on two late goals – including a penalty – to see them through.

In fairness this did come on the back of at least five clear-cut goal chances, including one in the opening seconds for James McEntee – which Meath couldn’t quite convert. Instead, the first goal chance they made count was from the penalty spot, some four minutes from the end, which Fiachra Ward coolly converted, even if Mayo goalkeeper Conor O’Malley got a foot to it.

The problem was whether it should have been a penalty in the first place: Cillian O’Sullivan, easily Meath’s most lively forward, had his initial shot on goal charged down by Mayo midfielder Adam Gallagher, who was deemed by referee Cathal O’Hagan to have “foot blocked” – when there seemed nothing deliberate about the block. The passage of play that brought on O’Sullivan’s attack didn’t make much sense either, as Mayo appeared to be pushed off possession, and instead of winning a free, lost the sideline ball.

Anyway, Ward’s placed kick levelled it all up for the first time, and with that spooked Mayo – who had enjoyed a comfortable advantage throughout. Suddenly, they had gone almost 25 minutes without a score, and having led by seven points 20 minutes into the first half, had seen that lead whittled down to zero. Both teams had the chance to kick the decisive point in the last few minutes of normal time, but then, just as the clocked spilled into injury time, Meath struck again with a winning goal.

It was hardly textbook, and possibly not entirely legitimate either, at least if hand-passing rules were strictly enforced.

Again O’Sullivan started the move; this time, his shot was blocked, and when Ward’s attempted rebound was punched away by the Mayo goalkeeper, substitute Patrick Kennelly was in the right place at the right time to kick directly into the open goal.

So, for the first time in the entire game, Meath were in front by three – and with only two minutes remaining, there was unlikely to be any way back for Mayo.

Stephen Coen did manage one late point, which actually ended their 27-minute barren spell, but there rarely is any comeback from those classic last-gasp winners.

It was tough on Mayo, and although manager Tony Duffy said his “instinct” suggested there was nothing wrong with the foot block that resulted in the Mayo penalty, he wasn’t going to hang the entire game on it. Mayo had been in a truly commanding position and could only blame themselves for letting it slip. They dominated the first half, or at least the better part of it – outscoring Meath 1-6 to 0-2 in the opening 25 minutes, with Coen, Seán Regan and Shane Hennelly collecting the best of the points. Diarmuid O’Connor claimed their goal after 19 minutes. Again, it wasn’t the prettiest, and indeed helped by some wayward Meath defending that saw the ball half skew from James Quinn out to O’Connor, when Meath should have tidied it up.

It looked at that stage as if Mayo were the only team capable of winning, but Meath suddenly gave themselves hope when they hit four points to Mayo’s one in the last five minutes of the half, including a hard-worked effort from midfielder Pádraic Harnan.

When Mayo hit three points without reply in the first six minutes of the second half it seemed for certain that Meath were cooked, but instead Mayo went off the boil completely.

So Meath set up their All-Ireland final showdown against either Dublin or Kerry, and there’s no denying which team they would rather face to make the redemption song complete.

MEATH:R Burlingham; D Smyth, B Power, S Gallagher; C Carton, S McEntee, S Lavin; P Harnan (0-1), A Flanagan; C O’Sullivan (0-2), J Daly (0-2), J McEntee (0-1); B Dardis, S Coogan, F Ward (1-3, one penalty, three frees). Subs: R O Coileáin (0-1) for Carton (35 mins), P Kennelly (1-0) for Dardis (37 mins), C O Criofa for Coogan (60 mins).

MAYO:C O’Malley; J Geraghty, S Moran, M Plunkett; C Burke, P Durcan (0-1), K Lynch; B Mullen, A Gallagher (0-3, two frees); E Lavin (0-2, one free, one 45), S Coen (0-2), D O’Connor (1-0); J Quinn (0-1), S Regan (0-1), S Hennelly (0-1). Subs: C Byrne for Regan, D Duffy for Lavin (both 36 mins), Regan for Quinn (48 mins), D McHale for O’Connor (53 mins).

Referee: Cathal O’Hagan (Tyrone).

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