Carlow 1-12 Meath 1-12
An injury time goal by the brilliant JJ Smith secured a draw for 13-man Carlow against 14-man Meath in what was a largely uninspiring Leinster SFC tie at Tullamore until that late drama.
The Royals were leading by three points entering the third minute of injury time when Donal Keogan gave away possession.
Carlow worked it to Keith Jackson, whose speculative shot from 20m and out on the right was spilled by Meath goalkeeper David Gallagher, leaving Smith with the simplest of tasks to stroke the ball to the net.
Meath had by far the better of the first half in terms of possession and particularly goal chances but yet they only had a two-point advantage to show for their superiority at half time.
Graham Reilly had nothing like the influence he exerted against Wicklow a fortnight ago although he may have been hampered by a hamstring strain that forced his premature departure from that game.
He was deployed at midfield once again and both Brendan Murphy and Darragh Foley were given yellow cards for late tackles on the St Colmcille’s speedster.
He did score one spectacular point but it was Brian Farrell and Cian Ward who were the key operators for the Royals.
Farrell popped up with two points but was very lively in general in terms of providing a target and finding team-mates.
Ward slotted two straightforward frees and his delightfully-drilled 30m kick-pass enabled Farrell to turn Brendan Kavanagh and slot over effortlessly for the Nobber man’s initial score.
It was Ward’s 22nd minute goal that separated the sides in that opening period as he capitalised on the hesitancy of Padraig Murphy to gather possession from Joe Sheridan’s diagonal ball.
From there, he carried the ball 30m and with Murphy making a last-ditch tackle, buried a left-foot shot to the roof of the Carlow net.
That left five points between the sides but despite not ever looking like breaching the Meath rearguard, Carlow clawed themselves back courtesy of two brilliant points by Brian Murphy, one of which came from a free at a very tight angle.
JJ Smith also converted a couple of frees before Farrell instinctively swung on a loose ball off the sod in the Carlow area to grab his second point and leave it 1-6 to 0-7.
Although Reilly stretched Meath’s advantage almost immediately after the resumption, another Smith brace, including a score from play galvanised Carlow.
Their hopes raised further when after Conor Gillespie hauled down Brendan Murphy and was shown his second yellow card. Darragh Foley launced a brilliant score immediately afterwards to reduce the deficit to one.
Farrell kept Meath’s noses in front with two excellent scores, while Brendan Murphy launched a wonderful effort between them.
Points from Mickey Burke and Reilly pushed Meath those three points ahead but it looked like curtains for Carlow when Paul Reid and Derek Hayden were both shown red cards in separate incidents.
That was to reckon without Carlow spirit though and they now have another bite of the cherry back at O’Connor Park next Saturday.
Scorers – Carlow: JJ Smith 1-5(0-4fs); Brian Murphy 0-3(2fs); Brendan Murphy, D Foley, P Reid, D St Ledger (f) 0-1 each
Meath: C Ward 1-3(0-2fs); B Farrell 0-5; G Reilly 0-3; M Burke 0-1
Carlow: T O’Reilly; P Murphy; C Lawlor, B Kavanagh; K Nolan, S Redmond, T Bolger; Brendan Murphy, D Foley; Brian Murphy, P Reid, E Ruth; JJ Smith, S Gannon, D St Ledger. Subs: D Hayden for St Ledger inj (37); B Lambe for Bolger (52); K Jackson for Foley (61); C Murphy for Brian Murphy (68)
Meath: D Gallagher; D Keogan, K Reilly, B Menton; D Tobin, S McAnarney, M Burke; C Gillespie, G Reilly; B Meade, P Gilsenan, A Forde; B Farrell, J Sheridan, C Ward. Subs: J Queeney for Forde (45); M Collins for Gilsenan (51)
Referee: B Cassidy (Derry)