Peadar Byrne on the attack for Meath on Sunday.
Peadar Byrne on the attack for Meath on Sunday.
Meath 1-17, Kildare 1-11
The whole country sat up and took notice on Sunday afternoon as Meath produced the biggest shock of the summer and booked their place in the Leinster SFC decider with a stunning victory over 14-man Kildare.
Touted as massive underdogs, Meath just don't follow the formbook and on Sunday they ripped the guide to shreds as they produced a performance that was mixed with guile, passion and a steely determination that many said was gone from their game.
This was no fluke either, if anything Lady Luck did everything she could to deny Meath.
An unfortunate own goal from Mickey Burke and some awful decisions by Cork referee Michael Collins threatened to encapsulate Meath's heretofore awful season, but instead of letting their heads drop the Royals rose again.
Kildare will point to the 52nd minute dismissal of Daryl Flynn for a second yellow card as a reason for failure, but the reality was that even at that stage they couldn't put Meath away.
They were blessed when Burke put through his own net after a superb save by David Gallagher, but still Meath showed remarkable resilience.
That goal was Kildare's last score of the game and they actually failed to score themselves in the final 24 minutes as Meath rampaged through them.
It was that direct style that provided the platform for Meath's stunning victory. Backed by the wonderful performance, the result took care of itself.
Meath never panicked. Early in the second-half Kildare lorded possession and threatened to overrun their opponents. However, an over-elaboration of handpasses and an indecisiveness in front of the posts cost them dearly as Meath remained patient.
Kildare built from the back and retained possession superbly, but when Meath saw the opportunity they seized it with a pouncing attack to hit Kildare on the break.
Much of the doubt surrounding Meath in the build up to the game arose from a perceived lack of experience throughout the side, but it was fearless youthfulness that won the day.
Once again Brian Farrell stole the scoring plaudits with six points, Joe Sheridan enjoyed a vastly improved performance with some superb link play to set the tone.
However, the platform for victory was built by the remarkable efforts of the inexperienced crew of the outstanding Damien Carroll, Alan Forde, Donal Keogan, Bryan Menton and Donncha Tobin.
Outside of Meath those names are unknown, but after Sunday they will have developed reputations that will stand to Meath football for a long time.
Keogan put Johnny Doyle in his pocket, Menton hardly gave Tomás O'Connor a sniff and Carroll produced a man-of-the-match performance as he pulled the strings from centre-forward.
It was the ultimate team performance with every individual playing their part in a near perfect example of glorious football.
Meath had everything in their game. They showed a power and pace that had been lacking and although they hit eight wides, four in the opening quarter, they were clinical in attack with 1-13 from play.
The much feared Kildare attack was forced backwards by the resolute Meath defence as they scored only seven points from play.
The early indications suggested that Meath might be in for a difficult afternoon. Kavanagh opened the scoring after 26 seconds as O'Connor took advantage of a nervous Menton.
After a couple of wayward Meath efforts Kildare doubled their advantage with an easy point from Emmet Bolton, but the signs were there that Meath wouldn't be a pushover as they were finding gaps and their direct driving was causing problems.
Brilliant work from Sheridan put Carroll in the clear to get Meath off the mark after seven minutes and after both sides squandered decent chances from frees it was Meath who levelled in the 13th minute when Sheridan pointed.
Forde's wayward effort was deflected over the bar by Morgan O'Flaherty and a stunning 60-second spell saw Meath pull 0-4 to 0-2 clear when Graham Reilly pointed.
The Kildare tactic to spoil Reilly by setting Bolton on him backfired because not only did they lose a significant attacking threat from defence they also struggled to contain the St Colmcille's man.
A Mikey Conway free and an easy point from Doyle, after Reilly had coughed up possession, restored parity at the end of the opening quarter, but again Meath refused to buckle under intense pressure.
As Kildare procrastinated Meath took advantage and won three close range frees, converted by Farrell for a 0-7 to 0-4 lead.
A couple of suspect refereeing decisions allowed Eoghan O'Flaherty convert three frees to level again, but after a surging run by Forde, Sheridan flighted the ball over the bar to give Meath a 0-8 to 0-7 interval advantage.
Emotions threatened to boil over at half-time as Collins called for time as Cian Ward's effort sailed towards the target. Luckily the ball fell short or the referee could have had a mutiny on his hands.
Kildare got back on terms two minutes after the restart when O'Connor took advantage of the new 'square ball' rule to beat Gallagher to the punch and after Carroll hit the upright at the Hill 16 end, Kildare broke to take the lead with Alan Smith on target.
Smith continued to cause Meath problems and after Sheridan dragged a decent goal chance wide the Sarsfields man made it 0-10 to 0-8 following a rare error in defence by Meath.
Reilly cut the deficit to a point to keep Meath in a game that threatened to run away from them. However, the outstanding Conor Gillespie started to dominate midfield and despite falling two points behind again to another Smith score, Meath were starting to up the tempo.
A brilliant point on the turn from Farrell was followed by a converted '45' from Sheridan to make it 0-11 each.
Then with 18 minutes remaining Flynn picked up his second yellow card in nine minutes for a careless challenge as Carroll tried to claim possession.
Farrell pointed from the resultant free and it was advantage Meath. However, luck seemed determined to go against Seamus McEnaney's men as Gallagher's superb save to deny Conway a goal ricocheted off Burke to the net to give Kildare a 1-11 to 0-12 lead.
Meath's response was swift and brutal. Farrell and Reilly brought the sides level for the sixth time before Carroll won a 'hop ball' and quickly released Peadar Byrne for a superb goal, his third in two substitute appearances.
Kildare emptied their bench, but left Seanie Johnson in reserve, in an effort to find a way back, but Meath were resolute. Stephen Bray marked his return to make it 1-15 to 1-11 before Jamie Queeney bagged two points with his first two touches.
Kildare went in search of goals, but Meath fought until the end with Gillespie and Tobin producing two heroic blocks to deny Bolton and finally get the Kildare monkey off the Meath backs.
Meath - B Farrell 0-6 three frees; P Byrne 1-0; J Sheridan 0-3 one '45'; G Reilly 0-3; J Queeney 0-2; A Forde 0-1; S Bray 0-1; D Carroll 0-1.
Kildare - Own Goal 1-0; E O'Flaherty 0-3 frees; A Smith 0-3; J Kavanagh 0-1; E Bolton 0-1; M Conway 0-1 free; J Doyle 0-1; T O'Connor 0-1.
Meath - David Gallagher; Donal Keogan, Bryan Menton, Ciaran Lenehan; Donncha Tobin, Shane McAnarney, Mickey Burke; Conor Gillespie, Brian Meade; Alan Forde, Damien Carroll, Graham Reilly; Brian Farrell, Joe Sheridan, Cian Ward. Subs - Eoghan Harrington for Lenehan 18 mins, Stephen Bray for Ward 40m, Peadar Byrne for Meade 47m, Kevin Reilly for Menton 66m, Jamie Queeney for Forde 68m.
Kildare - S Connolly; H McGrillen, M Foley, P Kelly; A Smith, M O'Flaherty, I Lyons; E Bolton, D Flynn; J Kavanagh, M Conway, P O'Neill; J Doyle, T O'Connor, E O'Flaherty. Subs - P Fogarty for Doyle 50m, R Kelly for Kavanagh 59m, D Earley for O'Connor, R Sweeney for O'Neill, E Callaghan for Conway all 62m.
Michael Collins (Cork).
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