WELL, one thing’s for certain — there won’t be a word this week about the World Cup final, certainly not in the north-east.
Louth had a corner forward called Judge but they got little justice at Croke Park yesterday. It was Meath who got out of jail. The decision at the end is fairly black and white. After a brilliant block by Louth captain Paddy Keenan to deny Seamus Kenny a certain goal, Joe Sheridan showed great desire in winning the ball and was trying to score a goal but carried the ball over the line which, in my view, is a foul. A free-out should have been awarded to Louth and with time up the final whistle should have blown giving Louth a one-point victory. The referee only seemed to consult with one umpire and not for long either.
If I were on the CCCC, I would unhesitatingly offer Louth a replay next weekend. I seem to remember Laois and Carlow replaying a few years ago over a point that wasn’t. If this victory stands, it won’t do Meath any favours because there will always be a question mark over the result. They have definitely improved since last year and the win over Dublin was a big step in their development. The next step is to win a provincial title, but not in this manner.
After the Dublin game, the Sunday Game highlighted a number of incidents that should have been frees to Dublin but were not given and these led directly to Meath goals. Now you have another big decision going in Meath’s favour. Going forward, apart from becoming very unpopular, the team wont get a 50/50 decision for the rest of the year. So if I were Meath, I would work on all the things they did poorly yesterday — and there are many — put them right and turn up next Saturday and play well and beat Louth.
Neither team rose to the occasion in the first half. Louth, perhaps a little nervous, should have had goals from JP Rooney and Mark Brennan in the first half but had only five points to show for their efforts. I said after the high of the win over Dublin that Meath would be flat but this was pancake-flat. Meath, with their midfield breaking even in the first half, were casual up front, shooting from bad positions as if there would be lots more opportunities later. Only the very accurate Graham Reilly and Stephen Bray showing any conviction. Louth were playing with a spare defender and letting Seamus Kenny off down the field. The Meath forwards were not working near hard enough to fill the huge space in the half-forward line and make themselves available to outfield colleagues.
Louth took over midfield after half-time and fired over four points within 10 minutes to lead by a point. Louth moved Ray Finnegan onto Seamus Kenny and he won a lot of loose ball. A number of decisions were going against Meath for allegedly handling the ball on the ground.
The game burst into life on 62 minutes when JP Rooney scored a brilliant goal to put Louth a goal up. But instead of building on this it was to prove their last score and all they picked up from there on were yellows for Paddy Keenan, Colm Judge (who got two) and JP himself for twice kicking away the ball. Crucially, Brian White also missed a scoreable free.
Meath, while not on fire, showed good survival instincts at this stage with Kevin Reilly having his finger in the dyke, Nigel Crawford winning a couple of vital kick-outs and Stephen Bray running hard at the Louth defence. Graham Reilly chased down Eamon McAuley to win back the ball. They got the lead back to a point before the fun started.
Louth will feel very hard done by and I hope they get a replay. When the dust settles they may learn a little about taking their chances keeping their discipline — maybe a few of their supporters might too. They played well even though their main man up front, Shane Lennon, was quiet. If they don’t get a replay then they have plenty to be positive about and by channelling their energy correctly are well capable of reaching the quarter-finals.
Meath will be concerned about their defence (Kevin Reilly aside), the fade out after half-time around the middle, and the low-energy performance from some forwards. Amazingly Joe Sheridan, Cian Ward and Shane O’Rourke only scored a point from play between them and it was a surprise that despite a poor display, Meath only introduced their first sub in the 69th minute.
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