Tradition saves Royals

A LETHAL cocktail of the very best and worst of Meath football left local supporters punch drunk as they swelled the Páirc Tailteann exits on Saturday evening.

Ultimately, Meath’s All-Ireland ambitions remain intact thanks to a fight back that upheld all the rich traditions of the battling Royals, though one which, in truth, may merely prolong the inevitable.

Stephen Bray, who gunned down Galway with 2-2 when they last met in 2007, proved Meath’s match-winner with a dramatic 72nd-minute curling point from the left wing.

Yet it was an odd sort of elation among the 15,000 or so strong crowd as they retired to Navan’s local hostelries afterwards.

Certainly there was satisfaction at prevailing in testing circumstances and achieving another little milestone in the Seamus McEnaney era — their first back-to-back victories.

But if this was to be anything more than an ageing heavyweight punching blindly in the dark for long periods in search of his old knock-out blow, then Meath must improve vastly.

The stats make for alarming reading; 14 wides, a multitude of kicks aimed straight into goalkeeper Adrian Faherty’s arms and, most damning of all, the failure to score from first-half injury-time to the 65th minute.

Manager McEnaney was understandably defiant, however, refusing to accept that his side had pawned their get out of jail free card for a place in round three of the qualifiers.

“I wouldn’t say that,” claimed ‘Banty’. “I think Meath mixed the best football they played all year with the worst football they played all year.

“I suppose the most pleasing point for me is that Meath showed a real bit of character, the sort you would expect from Meath down the years.

“A point down going into injury-time and they dig out the result.”

Exactly two decades on from the heroics against Dublin of 1991, it felt a little like Croke Park all over again, though a colder analysis highlights how Meath were lucky to escape.

They led 0-8 to 0-4 and dominated Galway to such an extent that it could have been double that. But nine wides badly undermined Meath’s challenge and, almost inevitably, ensured they would be reeled in during that near 30-minute second-half scoring lull.

McEnaney said: “If we had taken our chances, we could have run out easy winners.

“But the longer we kept Galway in the game, the more their confidence grew.

“But the one thing is, in injury-time — after Galway had gotten the last five or six points in a row — that was real character from this Meath team. We need to drive on now next Saturday night.”

Local Navan O’Mahony’s man Bray took all the plaudits for splitting the posts with his winner.

But goalkeeper Brendan Murphy pulled off an equally crucial stop moments later that denied Galway what would have been a match-winning goal.

Cormac Bane was put through in a one-on-one situation and his slight delay in shooting allowed 35-year-old former Wimbledon FC netminder Murphy to race off his line, narrow the angles and smother the shot away to safety.

“He’s an absolute class act,” enthused McEnaney. “He’s like a fine wine — he’s getting better with age. He was absolutely class throughout.”

Murphy’s sprawling save will remain forever etched in Tomás Ó Flatharta’s mind if it proves the last action under his watch as Galway manager.

He’s under real pressure now after a tame championship exit that followed relegation to Division Two of the Allianz League in his first season.

His players hardly eased his plight, though the loss of Michael Meehan 24 minutes into his first start of the year with a dislocated shoulder was a huge psychological blow.

Joe Sheridan and Bray oozed class up front for Meath early on and with a dominant centre-back, Shane McAnarney, and midfield sector, they strode into a fully deserved 0-6 to 0-2 advantage after 20 minutes.

By half time Meath were 0-8 to 0-4 leaders, though wides had now become a real problem as the players struggled to kill off Galway as demanded by an encouraging crowd.

The profligacy only got worse though, and Galway duly reeled them in a point at a time to draw level at 0-9 apiece before corner-back Johnny Duane strode forward for what appeared a 67th-minute winner.

But the men of 91 surely lowered their grimaces a little in the final few minutes as Brian Farrell levelled the scores, Bray kicked the winner and Murphy put the cork in it with his excellent save.

Scorers for Meath: S Bray 0-3; G O’Brien, S McAnarney, S O’Rourke, B Meade, J Sheridan, C Ward (1f), G Reilly, B Farrell 0-1 each.

Scorers for Galway: P Joyce 0-4 (1f); C Bane 0-3 (1f); J Duane, G Bradshaw, M Clancy 0-1 each.

Subs for Meath: G Reilly for Gilsenan (41), B Farrell for P O’Rourke (46), M Ward for C Ward (55), E Reilly for King, N Crawford for Meade (both 64).

Subs for Galway: A Burke for Blake (blood 13-15), F Breathnach for Meehan (24), P Conroy for Bergin (53), E Concannon for Hehir (56), M Boyle for Clancy (71).

Referee: M Collins (Cork).

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