With Padraig Joyce masterful at centre-forward, his cousin Nicholas dominant inside, Galway led by 1-6 to 0-0, and an annihilation looked on the cards. Even allowing for the strong diagonal wind that favoured the westerners, this was dominance on a regal scale. And suddenly, it all fell apart.
A Meath substitution, a number of inspired switches, and this game underwent a remarkable transformation.
No soft way to say this, but with 1-2 from play in that opening blast, Nicholas Joyce had been destroying Anthony Moyles on the edge of the Meath square, while regular full-back Darren Fay was struggling to make any impact in his new midfield role. Don’t be surprised if that’s the last Meath fans see of that experiment.
In one of a number of shrewd changes, Fay and Moyles swapped roles and both blossomed. Fay curbed the threat of Joyce, Moyles came charging into the game. In the Meath half-back line, the experienced Hank Traynor came off the wing to shadow play-maker Padraig Joyce while in attack, burly Damien Byrne was introduced, and after notching a point with his first kick, he threw himself about, winning vital outfield possession.
Another significant switch saw man-of-the-match Joe Sheridan’s move from corner-forward to the forty for the balance of the first half, where he instantly set up two crucial Meath points.
The upshot of this drastic surgery was a massive Meath improvement. Four unanswered points from, per Byrne, Ray Magee, full-forward Niall Kelly and big Sheridan, pulled it back to hada far more respectable look on the scoreboard (1-6 to 0-4) approaching the interval.
Though Joyce edged Galway six points clear, the deficit was halved within fifteen seconds of the restart, Sheridan - returning to the full-forward line - again doing the damage.
Using his height to break down a fifty-fifty high ball, then his strength to win possession, he turned the unfortunate Clive Monaghan inside out, and gave Brian O’Donoghue no chance in the Galway goal. Three points on the trot, two from Magee, one from an otherwise subdued Shane McKeigue, and just eight minutes into the second half, it was level, 1-7 apiece.
Credit Galway, however, as they
retorted with three unanswered points from sub Matthew Clancy, a
determined Nicholas Joyce and Derek Savage, who was having a fine tussle with Mark O’Reilly.
Sheridan pegged it back with a free from wide left, then came Meath’s second goal. Though bottled up this time, Sheridan laid off to another Meath youngster, Brian Farrell, whose shot went under keeper O’Donoghue.
At 2-8 to 1-10, Meath were ahead for the first time in the game, but with Sean Óg de Paor more than willing to augment the attack, Tommy Joyce running his socks off, Padraig and Nicholas still battling hard, it was no surprise that Galway were tied again at 2-9 to 1-12 with five minutes left.
Those final minutes however were dominated by Meath. Two well-struck frees from Sheridan, Moyles capping his redemption with a fine point on the run, giving the home side a deserved if surprising three-point win.
Meath manager Sean Boylan said: “We were getting a football education in the early part of the first half, the way they were on the ball, throwing it around. They’ve had an Indian sign over us so it was important that when they went so far ahead, our fellas didn’t give in.
“Whether we won or lost didn’t matter as much as not giving in. They battled very hard, and those were two hard-earned points,” he said.
For Galway manager John O’Mahony, fewer reasons to be cheerful. “We let Meath back into the game and no better team to take advantage. It was great experience for the young players, but we’d like to have them learning while winning.
“We can use all the excuses in the world but they got scores at vital times, while different things broke down for us.”
Scorers for Meath: J. Sheridan 1-4 (0-4 frees); B. Farrell 1-0; 0-3 (0-1 free); D. Byrne 0-2; A. Moyles, S. McKeigue, N. Kelly, 0-1 each.
Galway: N. Joyce 1-3; P. Joyce 0-4 (0-2 frees); M. Clancy 0-2; T. Joyce, D. Savage, J. Bergin, 0-1 each.
MEATH: D. Gallagher; P. Reynolds, A. Moyles, M. O’Reilly; S. Kenny, T. O’Connor, H. Traynor; N. Crawford, D. Fay; R. Magee, S. McKeigue, A. Kenny; B. Farrell, N. Kelly, J. Sheridan.
Subs: D. Byrne (Kenny 23); E. Kelly (N. Kelly 54); J. Cullinane (Magee 57); D. Clarke (O’Connor 59); B. Dillon (Farrell 67).
GALWAY: B. O’Donoghue; C. Monaghan, K. Fitzgerald, M. Comer; D. Bourke, D. Mullally, S. Og de Paor; K. Walsh, J. Bergin; D. O’Brien, P. Joyce, M. Donnellan; D. Savage, N. Joyce, T. Joyce. Subs: M. Clancy (O’Brien 31); D. Meehan (Monaghan 43); M. Meehan (Bergin 60); B. Doohey (Mullally 69).
Referee: M. Hughes (Tyrone), good job.