The Delaney Cup will stay in the capital but only just, after a late rally from Meath made Dublin sweat for their latest piece of silverware. The final scoreline would suggest this contest was a close affair throughout however there were periods in this Leinster final where it looked like Dublin were going to retain their title without fuss.
Just on the stroke of half time Dublin rattled the onion bag twice in the space of a minute to open up an eight point gap and leave Meath stunned going in at the break trailing on a scoreline of 2-07 to 0-05. This allowed Dublin to open up a gap that Meath never really recovered from.
Meath’s talisman from play, Graham Reilly, opened up the scoring in the third minute after but Dublin responded immediately however with a Bernard Brogan free. Dublin’s tactics became clear from the offset. Michael Dara Macaluley, starting at full forward, as expected made his way out to the middle of the pitch and left Kevin McManamon and Bernard Brogan inside.
Meath were beginning to struggle with the penetrating runs Dublin were making with Macauley in particular breaking from deep and distributing the ball to create opportunities for the Dublin forwards which they duly took, taking a 0-06 to -01 point lead within the first fifteen minutes.
Despite Dublin’s apparent dominance, Donal Keoghan and Kevin Reilly were still proving why they are considered to be two of the meanest defenders in the current game. Keoghan, impressive all year since breaking into the team and a strong contender for man of the match, was managing to frustrate McManamon and Reilly was proving to be a thorn in Bernard Brogans side.
The magnitude of Reilly’s early departure from the pitch only became apparent in his absence when Brogan managed to raise the green flag once and the white flag seven times in total. Reilly, who was displaying no signs of his achilles injury which has plagued him in the last few weeks, eventually succumbed to a reoccurrence of the same injury in the 25th minute.
Bryan Menton who has been solid for the Royal County all season struggled when he deputised for Reilly at full back. Eoghan Harrington came into the fray and tried to shackle Macauley but was unable to deal with his athleticism and endless running. Meath did manage to gain a foot hold on the game in the interim and claw back Dublin’s lead to two points, with Brian Farrell coming into his own and beginning to trouble the All Ireland champion’s defence. After soaring high to magnificently field a Brian Meade delivery, Farrell then converted the free he had just won to leave it 0-07 to 0-05 to Dublin.
Then came the killer blow with two Dublin goals in first half injury time. Bernard Brogan, beginning to make his mark, fired low to the back of the net after a mistake by Conor Gillespie granted Dublin and Brogan the first goal of the game. Without blinking Denis Bastick had added a second to Brogans within a minute.
Dublin suddenly found themselves in a very comfortable half time lead even though they had lost one of their main attackers in Alan Brogan and had let Meath back into it. Eoghan Ó Gara, a replacement for Alan Brogan, had a major impact on the game in the end, scoring 0-02 and setting up several other opportunities.
Within fifteen seconds of the restart Meath pulled back a point from the boot of the impressive Brian Farrell. Meath, who had replaced Alan Forde with Cian Ward during the first half and Damien Carroll with Peadar Byrne at half time, seemed like they were looking to the old guard to restore parity to the game.
Dublin quickly responded with a Bernard Brogan point. Meath, with renewed optimism, started to cause Dublin trouble however and Brian Farrell made Stephen Cluxton produce a fantastic save in front of Hill 16 at the expense of a ’45. Joe Sheridan coolly converted the resultant opportunity for his only score of the game.
One of Meath’s biggest problems all day was their inability to deal with Dublin’s direct style of play. Dublin consistently had men running off the shoulder and Meath never seemed to get to grips with the runners.
This was most evident when Macauley burst through the Meath defence with purpose and pace and received Bryan Cullen’s perfectly timed hand pass to convert what looked like Dublin’s third goal only for his shot to rebound off the post.
The biggest talking point of the game came in the 52nd minute when Eoghan Ó Garas shot was judged to be wide after a period of uncertainty between referee Marty Duffy and his umpire. However Marty Duffy reversed this decision after consulting his linesman Maurice Deegan and awarded the point. The fact is the point was legitimate, however, we will never know if Maurice Deegan changed his mind after looking at the replay on the big screen and seeing a mistake had been made. Under current rules, officials cannot refer to any video replays to help them in their final decision.
Soon after, James Mcarthy put Dublin into a ten point lead and Meath’s misery looked to be confounded with Dublin looking reassured and certain for the win. However Meath slowly but surely started to convert chances.
In an unexpected move Joe Sheridan found himself in the middle of the field. With Dublin beginning to show signs of tiredness Meath began to get on top with Sheridan causing some problems for the Dublin midfield. Meath began to close the gap and when Jamie Queeney, a second half substitute, pounced in the square to beat Cluxton at his near post, suddenly the margin was down to three.
Meath who outscored Dublin in the last fifteen minutes by 1-06 to 0-02, suddenly found themselves in a position to snatch a draw. In a flurry of last minute activity Brian Farrell attempted to beat Cluxton from a free but Dublin held on to claim their 51st Leinster title and emerge deserved winners.
Meath should take comfort and positives from their strong finish when they head to Tullamore next week for round four of the qualifiers. They may have to reshuffle their pack with Kevin Reilly a doubt for the clash against Laois. Meath will be attempting to do what no other team has done in the qualifiers and win after a six day turn around. Dublin on the other hand will probably have more questions to answer than Meath and if they are to retain their All Ireland title they will have to improve on this performance.
Dublin – S Cluxton; P McMahon, R O’Carroll, M Fitzsimons; J McCarthy (0-1), K Nolan, C O’Sullivan; E Fennell, D Bastick (1-0); P Flynn, B Brogan (1-7), B Cullen; M D Macauley, A Brogan (0-2), K McManamon (0-1). Subs: E O’Gara (0-2) for A Brogan, P Andrews for K McManamon, B Cahill for E Fennell, C Dias for P Flynn, P Brogan for B Cullen.
Meath – D Gallagher; D Keogan, K Reilly, B Menton; M Burke, S McAnarney, D Tobin (0-1); G Reilly (0-3), C Gillespie; B Meade, D Carroll, A Forde; J Sheridan (0-1), B Farrell (0-7), S Bray (0-1). Subs: E Harrington for K Reilly, C Ward for A Forde, P Byrne for D Carroll, J Queeney (1-0) for B Meade, M Collins for S Bray.