Meath 1-8 Louth 2-14, Pairc Tailteann
Meath were humbled by arch rivals Louth in Navan this afternoon as the Royals were sent packing down to Division 3.
Both counties were looking to avoid relegation in the final round, but Louth took total control to lead convincingly by 1-12 to 0-3 at half-time.
Free-taker Darren Clarke was in terrific form and Derek Maguire’s 28th-minute goal provided a further boost to Louth’s confidence.
Tom Walsh and Maguire swapped goals in the second period, but Meath’s fight back never really materialised woes and they had midfielders Brian Meade and Mark Ward dismissed.
Today’s defeat will put Meath boss Seamus McEnaney under huge pressure. This has been a league campaign to forget for his side, who were tasting defeat for the fifth time in recent weeks.
Meath’s alarming slide has seen them look clueless in possession at times and lacking the necessary punch in both defence and attack, with opponents being able to outmuscle and outthink them.
Louth’s greater hunger and appetite for work was obvious early on at Pairc Tailteann. They set out their stall and from Clarke’s third minute free onwards, looked the likely winners.
Captain Paddy Keenan, who returned in place of the injured Brian Donnelly, had a key presence in midfield as the visitors broke forward at pace and took scoring chance after scoring chance.
With a strong wind behind them, points from Clarke, who added a brace, and Adrian Reid gave Peter Fitzpatrick’s men a healthy 0-4 to 0-0 lead by the 14th minute.
Like Keenan and Reid, Ray Finnegan and Jim McEneaney were also late call-ups and prominent in Louth’s early push for scores. Meath, on the other hand, looked laboured already and had to wait until the 20th minute for Stephen Bray’s opener.
Cian Ward and Mickey Burke got their names on the scoresheet as half-time approached, but it mattered little as Louth had already accumulated 1-12.
With Clarke providing the assist Maguire finished off his first goal of a 2-2 tally, making up for an earlier miss from Reid.
Carroll, Declan Byrne and the ever accurate Clarke, who punished Meath’s indiscipline time and again, helped move Louth’s points total into double figures.
Much more was expected from Meath in the second half and they immediately ate into that 12-point deficit with a Bray point after just 13 seconds.
Walsh profited from a defensive mix-up to score a welcome goal for Banty’s side and suddenly the comeback looked a possibility at 1-12 to 1-4.
A much-disputed 44th minute free led to a second Louth goal however, with Keenan and Carroll working the ball in to corner forward Maguire who beat goalkeeper David Gallagher for the second time.
There was no way back for the Royals from that point. The scores dried up for both sides and with frustration getting the better of him, Meade walked for two yellow cards in a two-minute spell.
Ward followed him for his second bookable offence and Meath were completely demoralised, with their relegation now inevitable.
The day belonged to Louth and Clarke (0-06) in particular, who has starred during the campaign despite playing with a significant cartilage problem in his right knee.