When the story of the 2017 Championship is penned later in the year, Louth’s second goal at Parnell Park yesterday will undoubtedly be among the summer’s most bizarre moments.
Leinster SFC quarter-final
Louth 3-9 Meath 0-27
Paddy O’Rourke is a quality goalkeeper and an experienced one too but what the big Meath man was thinking early in the second-half at Parnell Park only he knows.
Louth were two points behind when O’Rourke’s short kick-out was intercepted by substitute Ronan Holcroft who kicked from around 30 metres for a point but miscued his effort.
O’Rourke turned his back on the shot and raced into the goalmouth, to the shock of the crowd, and the ball rolled over the goal-line, putting Louth a point ahead.
The tale of the game from there is that underdogs Louth, who twice opened up two-point leads after that, couldn’t hold on and were ultimately buried beneath an avalanche of Meath scores.
To be completely honest, the tale of how O’Rourke came to leak that goal is a lot more interesting and one that deserves an explanation.
“It was very strange, I wasn’t quite sure what was going on,” said Meath manager Andy McEntee.
“When the Louth man mis-hit the shot and I saw Paddy turning and going away I thought to myself, ‘well, it’s obviously going wide’ and then the net started to rattle.
“I think Paddy thought it was going wide. I think he actually thought the goals were to his left, and they were really to his right.”
Meath weren’t made to pay for the error and, to give O’Rourke his dues, he had a good game otherwise and pulled off one particularly excellent save in the first half.
The game was in the melting pot at that stage, mostly because Meath had three great goal chances themselves and didn’t take any of them while Louth nailed a 29th minute penalty through Jim McEneaney.
That goal left the Wee County trailing by just a point at half-time, 0-10 to 1-6, and their deficit suddenly turned into an advantage when Holcroft scored that remarkable goal.
Louth couldn’t hold on for that elusive win over Meath in the Championship though and their 42-year wait goes on. Leading by two points with 48 minutes on the clock, they scored just once more, a Conal McKeever goal, while Meath fired over 14 points.
It was a terrific finale from a side that was superbly led by captain Graham Reilly. He scored seven points in total, four of which arrived during that late scoring splurge and set up plenty for those around him too.
“Oh he was outstanding,” said McEntee of Reilly.
“That’s what Graham is capable of. Once he’s in the proper condition he’s a handful for anybody. He took a couple of scores when maybe we could have worked a goal but he did the right thing, we needed a score at those times.
"We needed an instant reaction when Louth got their goals and more often than not it was Graham that provided that.”
Meath’s reward is a June 17 Leinster semi-final clash with Kildare. No side that scores nearly 30 points in a Championship game can be written off though Meath will need to improve.
They oozed class going forward but took advantage of Louth’s porous defence as the Wee County went for goals and scores themselves. At the back, Meath were opened up too easily and Kildare would fancy their chances of capitalising.
Still, it was impressive from Meath who are hoping that McEntee can inject some of the old never say spirit back into the panel.
He was happy to see them finish so strong, something that drew the memory back to when Meath consistently punished teams in the last 15 minutes of games. In recent years, they’ve been more notorious for coughing up big leads and slipping out of games.
“The thing that we’re trying to convince fellas of is that in the last 10 minutes of games we’re okay, we can win games in the last 10 minutes and that proved to be the case today,” said McEntee.
“We looked strong in a lot of areas in the last 10 minutes and that was great to see.”
But McEntee admitted there was a lot of relief at the final whistle after a nerve-shredding afternoon.
“It’s just pure relief after all that,” he said.
“I’d hate to have my first Championship match as Meath manager and lose it. I put my hand up for the job and these are the games you want to be playing in. So it’s nice to get across the line because you just never know what’s going to happen in these games.
“You prepare for them as well as you can but when they go out on the pitch, as you seen, it’s out of your hands. It’s just relief, that’s the overriding feeling at the end of it all. Now we have to go through all that torture again the next day!”
Scorers for Meath:
G. Reilly (0-7); D. Lenihan (0-6, 3 frees, 1 ‘45); J. Toher (0-5, 3 frees); T. Reilly, B. McMahon, R O Coileain (0-2 each); C. O’Sullivan, R. Jones, S. Tobin (0-1 each).
Scorers for Louth:
J. McEneaney (1-2, 1 pen); C. McKeever, R. Holcroft (1-0); J. Califf (0-3, 1 free); R. Burns (0-2, 2 frees); A. Williams, B. Duffy (0-1 each).
P. O’Rourke; D. Tobin, C. McGill, M. Burke; P. Harnan, D. Keogan, S. McEntee; B. Menton, R. Jones; J. Toher, C. O’Sullivan, E. Wallace; G. Reilly (c), B. McMahon, D. Lenihan.
D. McQuillan for McGill (30, black card); R. O Coileain for S McEntee (52); C. O’Brien for Menton (55); T. Reilly for McMahon (59); S. Tobin for O’Sullivan (69).
C. Lynch; P. Reilly, K. Carr, P. Rath (c); J. Bingham, L. Dullaghan, A. Williams; T, Durnin, J. Stewart; D. Byrne, J. McEneaney, B. Duffy; P. Smith, E. O’Connor, R. Burns.
K. Murphy for Rath (20); A. McDonnell for Byrne (26); R. Holcroft for Carr (29, black card); C. McKeever for Dullaghan (h/t); J. Califf for Durnin (41); R. Moore for Smith (70).
B. Cassidy (Derry).
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