Meath 2-18 London 1-15
Neil Hackett and Nicky Horan led from the front as Meath captured the Nicky Rackard Cup at their first attempt, courtesy of a six-point win over London at Croke Park today.
The Royals led by 2-10 to 0-9 at half-time, with goals supplied by Horan and Michael Cole.
London kept in touch in the main through free-taker Martin Finn (0-6) and while they upped their game on the restart thanks to a Henry Vaughan goal, a determined Meath stood firm to collect the silverware.
As well as becoming Nicky Rackard Cup champions for the first time, the win saw Meath gain Christy Ring Cup status for 2010.
The victors, managed by TJ Reilly, counted on the steadying influence of David Kirby late in the game, with the Na Fianna defender bagging two late points and giving an outstanding display at left half-back throughout.
Meath led from start to finish, despite a purple patch from the Exiles in the second half as they cut the gap to three points.
However, Meath's determination shown through at the finish as Kirby and Neil Hackett (0-2) sealed the issue with closing scores.
Reilly’s men were clinical in the second half and had just two wides over the course of the closing 35 minutes. Indeed, London were equally accurate in the second half, registering just one wide.
London included Meath man Fergus McMahon in their ranks, with the midfielder notably having won an All-Ireland Junior Hurling title with his native county back in 1999.
He captained London to Nicky Rackard Cup glory in 2005 but his side got off to a rocky start in today’s final, hitting five first half wides.
They also had an over-reliance on full-forward and free-taker Martin Finn from placed balls, and Meath were comfortably ahead at the break, leading by seven points.
Nicky Horan rippled the London net in the 25th minute. His goal came following an initial effort by Joey Keena who had his shot blocked out by London goalkeeper Patrick Gannon, only for the advancing Horan to crash it home.
Soon after, some excellent work in the midfield sector by James Boyle, who made a lung-bursting run, led to a second Meath goal.
After Boyle’s dart forward, the inrushing Michael Cole controlled possession and sent the ball to the net from the edge of the parallelogram.
London regrouped at half-time and began to do some damage in the early part of the second half. Henry Vaughan sniped through for a 51st-minute goal to leave the score-line at 2-15 to 1-11.
But the Londoners were dealt a major blow when the influential McMahon had to be replaced with a suspected cruciate knee ligament injury.
London may have cut the gap to three points during that second half spurt, but with all six of Meath’s starting forwards on target, along with an inspirational display from midfielder Philip Garvey, the Royals proved too good on the day.
Scorers – Meath: N Hackett 0-06 (0-04f), N Horan 1-03, M Cole 1-01, J Keena, D Kirby, P Garvey 0-02 each, K Fagan, P Durnin 0-01 each.
London: M Finn 0-06 (0-03f), H Vaughan 1-00, M Mythen, K McMullan 0-03 each, K Forde, C O’Dwyer, E Morrissey 0-01 each.
MEATH: S Quinn; C Burke, E Fitzgerald, M Foley; M Horan, P Fagan, D Kirby; J Boyle, P Garvey; P Durnin, N Hackett, M Cole; J Keena, N Horan, K Fagan.
Subs used: G O’Neill for Cole (55 mins), R Masse for Durnin (69).
LONDON: P Gannon; S Fox, C Burke, E Phelan; K Forde, N Healy, K Kennedy; K Downes, F McMahon; M Mythen, C O’Dwyer, T Twomey; H Vaughan, M Finn, K McMullan.
Subs used: E Morrissey for Forde (half-time), F Tierney for Twomey (51 mins), N Coady for McMahon (60).
Referee: Owen Elliott (Antrim).