Meath 5-8 Louth 2-8
Cian Ward broke Louth hearts with a spectacular four-goal salvo at Breffni Park as Meath triumphed in decisive fashion in this eagerly-awaited repeat of last summer’s controversial Leinster final.
Ward hit the net twice in each half, with Paddy Ginsenan’s late strike completing an evening of misery for Louth, who limped out of the All-Ireland Qualifier series a well-beaten side.
In front of a crowd of 18,243, Ward stole the show with those four thumping strikes, a stark contrast to Louth’s lack of firepower. With the exception of Darren Clarke, whose 1-8 tally accounted for all but one of their scores, they carried little threat as an attacking force.
Louth made a promising start, opening out a three points lead, with Darren Clarke converting two frees and landing a neat point from play.
While Meath appeared sluggish and nervous in the early stages, they did craft goal chances, most of them falling to Ward.
He was denied by the woodwork in the tenth minute when he gathered possession wide on the left, cut inside, but sent his angled shot smashing against the crossbar.
Ward did strike for his first goal in the 15th minute when he collected Paddy Gilsenan’s pass to blast home, giving Sean Connor no chance.
Clarke converted another free, but Meath midfielder Shane O’Rourke responded with an eye-catching point.
Ward had yet another golden goal chance, but his firmly struck shot was well saved by Connor.
Joe Sheridan edged the Royals back in front, but Louth immedialtey swept downfield for Clarke, a late replacement for Derek Maguire, to grab a goal.
He finished from close range in the 27th minute after Shane Lennon had deflected Ray Finnegan’s searching delivery into his path.
Two minutes later, Ward struck for his second goal, finishing with power and precision after Paddy O’Rourke had palmed Brian Meade’s long punt perfectly in his direction.
Meath led by 2-4 to 1-4 at the break, and when Ward stroked over three frees, they had a five points cushion.
They could have been out of sight by the end of the third quarter, but for some poor finishing, but any lingering doubt about the outcome was dispelled on 53 minutes when Joe Sheridan set up Ward for his third goal, a low, angled finish off his left boot.
Three minutes later, Ward finished off a move involving Seamus Kenny and Shane O’Rourke with another bullet-like finish.
Louth pulled a goal back when Paddy Keenan netted a 65th minute penalty, awarded for a foul on Derek Maguire, to deprive Clarke of the dubious distinction of finishing as his side’s only scorer.
Louth trimmed back the deficit to five points, but there was another belt to be taken, with Paddy Gilsenan collecting Sheridan’s pass to fire home Meath’s fifth goal in stoppage time.
MEATH: B Murphy, G O’Brien, C King, C O’Connor, J Queeny, S McAnarney, C Lenehan, S O’Rourke (0-3), B Meade, G Reilly (0-1), J Sheridan (0-1), S Kenny, P Gilsenan (1-0), P O’Rourke, C Ward (4-3, 0-3f).
Subs: P Byrne for Queeny, E Reilly for G Reilly, A Moyles for Kenny, M Ward for Meade, N Crawford for Ward
LOUTH: S Connor, J O’Brien, A Hoey, D Finnegan, R Finnegan, M Fanning, A McDonnell, P Keenan (1-0, pen), B Donnelly, D Crilly, R Carroll, A Reid, D Clarke (1-8, 0-7f), S Lennon, JP Rooney.
Subs: E McAuley for O’Brien, D Byrne for McAuley, D Maguire for Rooney, S Fitzpatrick for Carroll, D Reid for Lennon
Referee: M Deegan (Laois).