Meath 0-19 Tyrone 2-14 (aet)
By Francis Mooney
Tyrone escaped from Navan with a narrow win and a place in the second round of the Qualifier series, squeezing out a courageous Meath side in an extra-time thriller.
Meath officials, players and supporters vented their fury at referee Paddy Neilan over a late decision that went against them, as the Red Hands hung on nervously for the most slender of victories.
An early Connor McAliskey goal and an extra-strike from substitute and championship debutant Harry Loughran went a long way to securing this result for Mickey Harte’s side, but they had to fight right to the death to hold off the Royals.
McAliskey was on fire in the opening stages, knocking over a couple of frees, before attempting to lob goalkeeper Andrew Colgan, his cheeky effort just clearing the crossbar.
But the Clonoe man did hit the net in the seventh minute. Conor Meyler drove deep into the Meath defence, offloaded to the over-lapping Michael McKernan, who slipped it inside to McAliskey for a deflected finish past Colgan.
The Royal response was emphatic, and they hit the next four points to go level. Donal Lenihan converted a couple of frees, and it was Cillian O’Sullivan, who was causing the visitors plenty of problems with his pace, who equalised in the 17th minute.
There was space to be found in both defences, and Mattie Donnelly prised the opening to send McAliskey in for another score, before wing back McKernan thumped over a long range effort.
Inevitably, in the baking heat, the tempo dropped in the latter stages of the half, but the Red Hands were still able to exploit an uncertain Meath rearguard, and Meyler sent midfielder Padraig McNulty through to fire in a shot which was superbly saved by Colgan.
And McAliskey had a goal chance late on, but his effort came back off the crossbar, and the Red Hands went in at the break with a 1-6 to 0-7 lead.
Meath’s hard, direct running stretched the Tyrone defence, with Joey Wallace and Cillian O’Sullivan always willing to take men on, and after Brenan had tagged on a couple of points, it was Wallace who powered through for the leveller on 54 minutes.
And they went in front for the first time midway through the second half when Brennan landed a free.
Tyrone’s finishing let them down on a number of occasions, with the home side countering at pace, and the led again when Brennan cancelled out a Frank Burns point.
Tyrone were reduced to 14 men when Tiernan McCann received a straight red card in the 65th minute, but they managed to go level again through McAliskey.
Brennan thought he had nailed the winner from a 40 metre free in the 75th minute, but there was still time for Kieran McGeary to send Cathal McShane in for a cool equaliser a minute later, the very last kick of the game.
Tied at 0-14 to 1-10, the teams reappeared for extra-time, and it was Tyrone who picked up the tempo, catching their opponents cold with a volley of scores, including a Harry Loughran goal, palmed home at the far post off a cross from fellow substitute Ronan O’Neill.
Tyrone led by 2-14 to 0-16 midway through added time, but again Meath came back strongly, and points from Lenihan and substitutes Thomas O’Reilly and Shane Glynn brought them so close, but the Red Hands held out.
Meath: A Colgan; S Lavin, C McGill, S Curran; J McEntee (0-2), D Keogan (0-1), S Gallagher; B Menton, A Flanagan; C O’Sullivan (0-2), B Brennan (0-6, 3f), M Burke (0-1); J Wallace (0-1), G Reilly, D Lenihan (0-4, 4f).
Subs: T O’Reilly (0-1) for Lenihan (54), E Wallace for Burke (55), B McMahon for J Wallace (57), Cian O’Brien for Brennan (71), S Glynn (0-1) for Gallagher (74), Daniel O’Neill for McGill (81), D Lenihan for Lavin (83).
Tyrone: M O’Neill; P Hampsey, R McNamee, HP McGeary; T McCann, F Burns (0-2), M McKernan (0-1); C Cavanagh, P McNulty; M Donnelly, N Sludden (0-1), C Meyler; C McShane (0-2), R Donnelly, C McAliskey (1-8, 0-6f).
Subs: K McGeary for Meyler (48), R Brennan for HP McGeary (48), H Loughran for R Donnelly (52), D McClure for McNulty (61), R McNabb for McNamee (67), R O’Neill for T McCann (71), Meyler for McKernan (78), C McCann for McShane (85), A McCrory for Hampsey (91).
Referee: P Neilan (Roscommon)