Dublin...1-20 Meath...0-19 Dubs secure a four-point win over Meath to banish any lingering relegation worries
Dublin 1-20 Meath 0-19
The last time Dublin and Meath squared-up to each other in Parnell Park 12 years ago, five players saw red, nine more were subsequently banned, the County Boards were fined €20,000 each and Dublin won.
There was less drama last night as Dublin secured a four-point win to banish any lingering relegation worries and keep alive a mathematical chance of winning the league.
Already relegated, this was Meath’s sixth successive defeat on their return to the top-flight. One suspects that manager Andy McEntee is more concerned about next month’s Leinster quarter-final against either Wicklow or Wexford, if it ever goes ahead.
But his side performed credibly last night, though a failure to take any of the three goal chances that came their way scuppered any hope of winning their first league tie against Dublin since 1995.
This was Dublin’s first league match at the Donnycarney venue since March 2010 when they lost to Galway by a goal. But the football world has been transformed since then, though probably not as dramatically as the world itself.
Stephen Cluxton eclipsed another record by becoming Dublin’s longest-serving player - he made his debut in the Leinster championship against Longford on May 27th,2001.
By starting his twentieth season, he surpassed the record of another goalkeeper, Johnny McDonnell, who played for Dublin between July 1919 and Ma y1938 and featured on the side that played in Croke Park on Bloody Sunday in November 1920.
Earlier, he had been a member of Michael Collins' squad which killed a number of British agents.
Last night, however, it was Dean Rock who grabbed the headlines early on, hitting a goal after a short Meath kick-out went awry.
The score was of historical significance, as it meant the Ballymun ace became Dublin’s leading scorer of all time, surpassing Jimmy Keaveney’s tally of 30-402 (492).
Rock’s goal brought his tally to 17-442 (493). At the final whistle, he had increased his advantage to eight points after scoring 1-8. He achieved the feat in 95 games, compared to 104 for Keaveney.
Meath kept just two players, Cillian O’Sullivan and Shane Walsh, up front, but despite having a surfeit of bodies back in defence they struggled to kept tabs with the Dublin attack. The home side targeted their kick-outs and by the first water-break they were 1-5 to 0-3 ahead.
The visitors improved in the second quarter but were still finding scoring more difficult. However, a spell of indiscipline from the Dublin defence allowed the Royals to stage a recovery, as Tomas O’Reilly converted three frees on the spin to cut the deficit to four points (1-10; 0-9) by the 30th minute.
There was a decisive moment in injury time in the first half when, in Meath’s best move, corner back Eoin Harkin – who earlier hit a point – combined with Cathal Hickey to put him through, but the rapidly-advancing Stephen Cluxton smothered Hickey’s effort.
Meath did get some reward, however, when Dublin gave away another needless free and the razor-accurate O’Reilly nailed it to leave three points between the sides at the break (1-10; 0-10). Significantly, Meath outscored Dublin five to one in the last ten minutes of the half.
Though Brian Fenton hit a Dublin point within 14 seconds of the resumption, a brace of Meath frees and Shane Walsh’s fourth point from play made it a one-point game in the 43rd minute.
Dublin’s indiscipline and an uncharacteristic tendency to give the ball away left Meath looking the better side, but their failure to take their goal chances totally undermined their efforts.
They fluffed another chance in the 46th minute after Cillian O’Sullivan put Shane Walsh through, but his effort hit the side-netting.
Having lost Jonny Cooper through injury, Dublin were also fortunate not to lose John Small, who somehow escaped a second booking for a challenge on Bryan Menton. But at the second-half water break Dublin still led 1-13 to 0-14 courtesy of two Rock frees.
In the final quarter, Dublin essentially played keep ball for long spells which frustrated Meath - and their scoring rate finally improved as they outscored Meath five to four in the closing minutes to win by four, which did scant justice to the Royals' effort.
Scorers: Dublin: D Rock 1-8 (5f), C O’Callaghan C Kilkenny 0-4 (1m) 0-4 each, B Fentonand P Small 0-2 each.
Meath: TO’Reilly 0-6 (6f), S Walsh 0-4, C O’Sullivan 0-3 (2f), J Morris 0-2, B Menton,E Harkin, B Conlon, J Conlon 0-1 each.
Dublin: S Cluxton; M Fitzsimons, D Byrne, C Murphy, J Cooper, J Small, R McDaid;B Fenton, E O Conghaile; E Lowndes, C Kilkenny, N Scully; P Small, CO’Callaghan, D Rock. Subs: E Murchan for Cooper (46), B Howard for O Conghaile(48), C O’Sullivan for J Small (53), A Byrne for P Small (62), S Bugler forLowndes (70)
Meath: MBrennan; D Toner, J McEntee, E Harkin, C Hickey, G McCoy, D Keogan;B Menton, R Jones; S McEntee, J Scully, E Devine; S Walsh, C O’Sullivan,T O’Reilly. Subs: J Morris for Devine (30), B Conlon for McCoy (39), D Campion for Scully (53), J Conlon for Walsh (60), D Lenihan forO’Reilly (66)
Referee: Brendan Cawley (Kildare)