At the finish, it was almost a struggle for the home side to hold on to a lead which dwindled after the concession of three points in the final ten minutes, but Tipp coach John Evans’ assertion that they ‘deserved’ to win was endorsed by a disappointed Eamonn Barry.
“It’s big for these lads,’’ said a jubilant Evans afterwards. “You put Down and Meath in front of these guys and it’s huge from where we have come. We held our nerve and we stayed in the game the whole way. We had to hold the ball and make Meath work and that is what we did.”
For his part, the Meath manager accepted the inadequacies in his team’s display and agreed that the Tipperary goal in the 55th minute proved decisive.
The first-half was a drab affair, with Tipperary the more impressive, benefiting from a tight-marking defence and a more resourceful attack. Philip Austin used his speed to good effect at centre-forward and Barry Grogan’s accuracy from frees was vital.
While Meath had a slight wind advantage, they made surprisingly little progress up front despite the fact that Nigel Crawford and Mark Ward saw plenty of the ball at midfield. Cian Ward was rarely involved at centre-forward and Joe Sheridan was even less effective at full-forward.
After Cian Ward had given Meath the lead from a third-minute free, Barry Grogan had the hosts quickly level with a terrific score from a sideline ball and in another 15 minutes they were 0-4 to 0-1 in front. However, they were fortunate not to concede a goal in the ninth minute, when ‘keeper Paul Fitzgerald saved from Sheridan.
At the break, they were in front by 0-7 to 0-4 and they were still leading by three points when the goal came, from a Grogan penalty. Interestingly, the referee first indicated a free out despite the fact that Peter Acheson seemed to be fouled after making a high catch, but he reversed his decision and pointed to the spot. Tipp added two more points and after that it was a case of holding out, with team captain Robbie Costigan at centre-back one of their stars on the day.
Scorers for Tipperary: B. Grogan 1-5 (1-4 frees, 0-1 sideline); P. Austin 0-2; C. Sweeney and C. Coen 0-1each.
Scorers for Meath: C. Ward 0-5 (0-2 frees, 0-1 sideline); S. O’Rourke 0-2; S. McAnarney, S. Bray and P. Byrne 0-1 each.
TIPPERARY: P. Fitzgerald; C. McDonald, N. Curran, P. Codd; C. Aylward, R. Costigan (capt.), C. McGrath; G. Hannigan, S. Grogan; P. Acheson, P. Austin, B. Mulvihill; C. Sweeney, B. Coen, B. Grogan.
Subs: S. Hahessy for Sweeney (ht); J. Cagney for Mulvihill (52); A. Rockett for S. Grogan (57); S. Carey for Austin (63); R. O’Dwyer for Coen (69).
MEATH: P. O’Rourke; E. Harrington, N. McKeigue, C. O’Connor; S. Kenny, M. Burke, A. Moyles; N. Crawford, M. Ward; S. McAnarney, C. Ward, J. Queeney; D. Bray, J. Sheridan, S. Bray.
Subs: O. Lewis for Sheridan (ht); Shane O’Rourke for Queeney (49); P. Byrne for McAnarney (55); N. Mooney for D. Bray (injured, 69).
Referee: Tom Walsh (Kerry).