Next to nobody expected Meath yesterday to break Kildare’s hoodoo over them.
But on an afternoon of resurrection, their run of five straight defeats against their neighbours was brought to an end in inspirational fashion. Meath supporters stopped pinching themselves when their own Lazarus, Kevin Reilly, rose from the bench and came on in the 67th minute.
The full-back had been written off in the build-up to the game after his Achilles heel problem had flared up again. But after a tangle with Dermot Earley saw Bryan Menton leave the field with a facial injury, Reilly entered the action to great fanfare.
And in there Reilly was unwilling to give Earley an inch as he was acquainted to the game. Three points ahead at that stage, the Meath contingent just lapped it up.
Their team were good for their victory but they were fortunate in the build-up to Peadar Byrne’s goal.
After a third man tackle by Meath substitute Stephen Bray, Michael Collins should have awarded a free out to Kildare, but the referee elected to throw up the ball.
The ball found its way to the precocious Damien Carroll and his slipped handpass into Peadar Byrne gave the substitute the platform to rattle Shane Connolly’s net.
The goal had come just five minutes after Kildare raised a green flag to go two points ahead. Mikey Conway’s shot was initially saved by David Gallagher but ricocheted off Micky Burke and across the goal-line.
It was a superb response by Kildare to losing a man when Darryl Flynn was brandished a second yellow card in the 53rd minute for a foot foul on Alan Forde.
That was another contentious decision by Collins and, with the game delicately poised at 0-11 apiece, it certainly had an impact.
As much as Meath reacted well to Kildare’s goal with a Joe Sheridan attempt, which was well saved by Connolly, and points from Brian Farrell and a long range Graham Reilly punt, Byrne’s goal put Seamus McEnaney’s team in the ultimate ascendancy.
Kieran McGeeney was then compelled to make four substitutions in the space of two minutes — three of them coming at one time. By that 62nd minute, Alan Smith and Eoghan O’Flaherty were the only survivors from the forward line that started.
McEnaney’s substitutes worked the better, though, scoring 1-4 in all — Byrne’s goal followed by a point from Bray and then two from Jamie Queeney in the closing stages.
Kildare had no answer and looked wiped out. Excluding Conway’s deflected goal, their last score of the game came in the 48th minute when Smith stuck over the last of three second-half points.
They scrambled at the end for a goal but were blocked on three occasions, Conor Gillespie and Tobin putting their bodies on the line to maintain their six-point advantage.
Smith’s last score was the second time Kildare stretched their lead to two after the break, his second in the 45th minute making it 0-10 to 0-8 in Kildare’s favour.
Known as a strong second-half team, they were expected to shake off Meath but Sheridan gave warning with his first of two goal attempts in the 41st minute, a shot which strayed a few yards wide.
Dominating midfield in the first-half when Conor Gillespie and Brian Meade provided perfect foils to Graham Reilly’s hard running, they restored their advantage in the middle again towards the end of the second quarter.
Reilly, who had picked up a yellow card in the 28th minute, showed a clean pair of heels to his sticky marker Emmet Bolton to rifle over his second of the game in the 47th minute.
After Smith’s third, Brian Farrell turned neatly to execute a nice point on the spin before Sheridan blasted over a 45 to make it 0-11 apiece.
Meath refused to let go and would have been disappointed not to have been more than one point ahead at half-time, 0-8 to 0-7. They managed that courtesy of Sheridan’s marvellous outside-of-the-boot effort in injury-time.
Prior to that, they had seen three Eoghan O’Flaherty frees eat up a lead they had worked hard to establish.
As Kildare pushed up in numbers, Meath’s defenders were forced into coughing up frees although Graham Reilly was unlucky to have been whistled for his tackle on Emmet Bolton in the 34th minute.
Sheridan’s exquisite score ensured his team’s work in the middle part of the first-half didn’t go to waste.
Although they squandered early free opportunities, they went ahead in the 14th minute when Morgan O’Flaherty deflected a Tobin shot over his own crossbar.
Graham Reilly’s first of three points doubled their advantage seconds later before Conway with a free and a John Doyle score levelled matters.
Lording midfield, the pressure on the Kildare backs was immense and Tobin earned a couple of frees in as many minutes which Farrell duly slotted over.
He added a third in the 24th minute when he was fouled himself.
At that stage and even with their quality in the middle, Meath’s performance was being dismissed as mere gutsy.
As it was to be proven later, it was more than that. Much more.
Scorers for Meath: B Farrell 0-6 (4fs), J Sheridan (1 45), G Reilly 0-3 each, P Byrne 1-0, J Queally 0-2, D Carroll, M O’Flaherty (own point), S Bray 0-1 each.
Scorers for Kildare: M Conway 1-1, E O’Flaherty (3fs), A Smith 0-3 each, J Kavanagh, E Bolton, J Doyle, T O’Connor, 0-1 each.
Subs for Meath: E Harrington for Lenehan (18), S Bray for Ward (41), P Byrne for Meade (48), K Reilly for Menton (inj 67), J Queeney for Forde (69).
Subs for Kildare: P Fogarty for Doyle (50), R Kelly for Kavanagh (60), D Earley for O’Connor, R Sweeney for O’Neill, E Callaghan for Conway (all 62).
Referee: Michael Collins (Cork).