Yet even when victory was Louth’s, Meath attempted to steal their thunder. Trailing by five points with two minutes remaining, and the game beyond their team, the Páirc Tailteann faithful were upstanding and in full voice when Joe Sheridan, Louth’s public enemy No1 since July 11, 2010, was introduced. Even county Meath PRO Martin O’Halloran got carried away with the moment and announced Sheridan’s arrival with gusto.
The Seneschalstown man was Jack Hannigan’s black card replacement after Hannigan, who was otherwise excellent, third-man tackled Sam Mulroy. However, Sheridan was not able to foil Louth again, Jim McEneaney’s penalty too sweet, too high and too accurate thus confirming a most deserving victory for the Division 3 side that are moving well this month.
“It might have been a pantomime but definitely wasn’t a pantomime from our point of view,” said Louth manager Colin Kelly of Sheridan’s appearance. “In fairness to Jim, his finish was excellent. Good win, badly needed. People think of 2010 but we came over here in 2012 and gave Meath a good trimming too in the National League. People say it’s only the O’Byrne Cup but ultimately we wanted another game in the competition.”
A first O’Byrne Cup final appearance in six years, Louth will also be hoping to avoid becoming a third-string Dublin’s latest scalp in Drogheda next Sunday. But on this display, they shouldn’t be too worried. Andy McDonnell and Tommy Durnin were excellent in midfield but it was Derek Maguire who looked the best of the bunch.
They were helped by the dismissal of Meath defender Alan Forde in the 23rd minute following a melee, which also saw Durnin booked. But it was more than numerical advantage that saw them kick eight points without response to keep Meath scoreless for 33 minutes in a period that stretched over the two halves. They were just sharper and smarter.
Louth led 0-6 to 0-4 at half-time and were four points better off by the 48th minute before a Bryan McMahon free ended the Royals’ barren spell. Just one of Meath’s first five scores were from play. Even when they led early on, Meath manager Andy McEntee was concerned. “To be perfectly honest, even at 0-4 to 0-2, I don’t think we were playing particularly well. Louth had had a few wides. I know we had had a few wides but we didn’t seem to be as sharp or as aggressive as I’d like us to be so even at 0-4 to 0-2, the signs were there that we were in a fair bit of trouble.”
Meath were guilty of being too laborious going forward with an overemphasis on hand-passing while Louth broke back at them with speed. “We’re trying to play a brand of football that suits Louth players,” explained Kelly. “We haven’t got big physical fellas, we have fellas with a high enough skill set. They’re athletic. We’re trying to play a game that suits that.”
In a derby game that saw nine yellow cards, two blacks and one red, referee David Moore was kept busy. Graham Reilly, who Kelly believed mightn’t have started because of St Colmcille’s All-Ireland intermediate club semi-final next Saturday, was heavily marshalled; on occasions excessively. Kelly wasn’t making any apologies.
“Listen, it’s a man’s game. Why work you ass off three or four nights a week to go out and go into yourself when the game starts on Sunday? What are you training for? It’s a physical game, we’re not over the top, we’re not physical in any fashion but what we don’t want is lads taking a backward step.
“So we have to be as strong as we can and get physical and for years we have got fellas behind the ball and done nothing, just shadow boxed inside their own 45. Now we are trying to get contact on, not in a dirty fashion just to be physical, be strong in the tackle and it seems to be paying off. We seem to be turning teams over, we’re not broke down as easily as we were.”
R. Ó Coileáin (0-3, 2 frees); C. Downey (0-2); E. Wallace, S, Tobin (45), B. McMahon (free), B. Menton, C. O’Brien (0-1 each).
J. McEneaney (1-1, 1-0 pen); D. Maguire, S Mulroy (1 45, 1 free) (0-3 each); T. Durnin, A. McDonnell (0-2 each); A. Williams, D. Byrne, P Smith (0-1 each).
J. Hannigan; D. McQuillan, D. Keogan, S. Curran; S. Lavin, B. Power; B. Menton, C. O’Brien; R Ó Coiléain, G. Reilly (c), E. Wallace; K. Ross, P. Kennelly, S. Tobin.
C. McGill for S. Curran (34); C. Downey for S. Lavin (39); C. O’Sullivan for S. Tobin, B. McMahon for K. Ross (both 41); S. McEntee for R. Ó Coileáin (black, 60); D. Lenihan for E. Wallace (64); J. Sheridan for J. Hannigan (black, 68).
A. Forde (straight, 23).
C. Lynch; P. Rath, P. Reilly, K. Carr; D. Maguire, L. Dullaghan, A. Williams; T. Durnin, A. McDonnell; D. Byrne, P. Smith, B. Duffy; C. McKeever, R. Carroll, G. McSorley.
J. McEneaney for R. Carroll (32); S. Mulroy for G. McSorley (39); J. Bingham for P. Reilly (51); A. Reid for C. McKeever (60); J. Stewart for L. Dullaghan (64); R. Nally for P. Smith (69); J. Califf for T. Durnin (70+1).
D. Moore (Laois).