Wicklow 1-12 Meath 1-17
A freak goal by Kevin Reilly, seconds after Seanie Furlong had a penalty saved, proved the turning point of this encounter, as Meath just about emerged from Aughrim with their Leinster championship hopes intact.
The men in green had the aid of a very strong wind and Mickey Newman kicked two early frees for Mick O’Dowd’s outfit, with the second a wonderfully-struck effort from the 45m line out on the right, that inched over off Rory Finn’s fingertips.
Wicklow exploded into the game with a seventh-minute goal from Paul Earls, the captain taking a pass from the hugely influential John McGrath before turning Donal Keoghan with ease and smashing a shot under pressure to the roof of the net.
The home side were the better unit for the next 20 minutes as they begin to exert control around the middle, with Darragh O’Sullivan – who was surprisingly replaced at half time - and Darren Hayden picking up a lot of possession.
McGrath pulled the strings and with Rory Finn and the magnificent Anthony McLoughlin timing their runs from deep very well, were causing their opponents huge trouble.
The latter duo took passes from McGrath to point but not for the first time, Graham Reilly provided most of the Meath highlights with some excellent finishing. He finished the opening period with three points and his third, kicked on the turn while running away from the posts, was top-drawer stuff.
The sides were level on 1-4 to 0-7 when Finn benefited from McGrath drawing the Meath cover, but the men in green enjoyed the better of the final 10 minutes, with Wicklow failing to score again before the interval.
Newman slotted a free and Brian Meade drove over from 45m before the real drama unfolded when Wicklow were awarded a 32nd minute penalty.
It seemed harsh on O’Rourke, as the Meath goalkeeper was upended after winning the ball, which subsequently spilled. McGrath gathered, fell over O’Rourke’s legs and Conor Lane immediately gestured for a penalty.
There was a delay as Mickey Burke got involved in some off-the-ball action and was booked. Whether that had an impact on Furlong or not, the full-forward scuffed his attempt and O’Rourke dived to his right for an easy save.
To rub salt into the full-forward’s wounds, his direct marker had a goal almost immediately. It was a bizarre score, as Kevin Reilly launched a bomb from 75m that eluded Newman and Damian Power. The ball took a big bounce over goalkeeper, John Flynn who could only watch as it nestled in the net.
Menton followed up with a point and suddenly it was a six-point game, 1-10 to 1-4.
Wicklow came out of the traps with renewed vigour though and had four points in the opening four minutes to send the home support into raptures.
Patrick MacWalter got the run going with a brilliant kick with the outside of his right boot from 45m. Hayden, McLoughlin and Furlong (free) followed up but critically Meath’s riposte was instant with points in the next two minutes by Pauric Harnan and the excellent Reilly.
It was nip and tuck from there to the end. Wicklow had a lot of pressure and a key moment arrived with three points between the sides and 10 minutes remaining as McLoughlin made a goal opportunity for himself brilliantly but his powerful low shot was splendidly saved by O’Rourke.
Meath’s pacy debutant, Eamonn Wallace lofted his third point almost straight after and Joe Sheridan pointed from a ridiculous angle within seconds of his introduction. Paddy Gilsenan did likewise as the darkness descended and that was enough to confirm Meath’s progression.
Scorers – Meath: M Newman 0-5(4fs, 1 45); G Reilly 0-4 each; E Wallace 0-3; K Reilly 1-0; B Menton, B Meade, J Sheridan, P Gilsenan 0-1, P Harnan each
Wicklow: J McGrath 0-4(3fs); A McLoughlin 0-3; P Earls 1-0; S Furlong 0-2(fs); D Hayden, P Mac Walter, R Finn 0-1 each
Meath: P O’Rourke; B Menton, K Reilly, D Keoghan; C Lenihan, C King, M Burke; B Meade, C Gillespie; P Byrne, D Carroll, G Reilly; E Wallace, S Bray, M Newman. Subs: S Kenny for Burke (ht); P Harnan for Lenihan (ht); B Farrell for Carroll (42); J Sheridan for Newman (61); P Gilsenan for Byrne (66)
Wicklow: J Flynn; C Hyland, D Power, A Byrne; D Hayden, P MacWalter, D Healy; A McLoughlin, J Stafford; D O’Sullivan, R Finn, J Kelly; P Earls, S Furlong, J McGrath. Sub: JP Dalton for O’Sullivan (ht); P Dalton for JP Dalton (42); L Benson for Healy (48); B McCrea for Kelly (52); B Coen for Furlong (68)
Referee: C Lane (Cork)