Published: Wednesday, 13th June, 2012 4:54pm
Brian Farrell picks off a point for Meath during Sunday's Leinster SFC quarter-final against Carlow at O'Connor Park, Tullamore on Sunday.
Meath 1-12, Carlow 1-12
Maybe it was the realisation of Meath's current status, but there was a collective sigh of relief from Royal County supporters as they left O'Connor Park, Tullamore on Sunday with their Leinster SFC ambitions still intact despite being held to a draw by minnows Carlow.
All the drama in an otherwise woefully uninspiring contest came in the final quarter when Meath had Conor Gillespie sent-off before managing to pull three points clear.
Then Carlow were reduced to 13 men following red cards for Paul Reid and Derek Hayden, but they still managed to snatch a draw when their star man JJ Smith pounced on a David Gallagher error to snare a 73rd minute equalising goal.
That Meath were only three points clear at that stage was what was most disappointing. Seamus McEnaney's men were hot favourites to sweep aside the Carlow challenge, but that rarely looked likely as they faltered at almost every hurdle.
And it wasn't that individuals played poorly. It was more that the collective effort, enterprise and will to win wasn't up to scratch against a side that were rated as eight-point underdogs by the bookies.
Before Smith's late goal, Carlow had managed just five scores from play, with two in the four-minute spell immediately after they were handed a numerical advantage.
Restricting Carlow to just those five points indicates a strong defensive show as no Carlow player managed to score twice from play, until Smith notched his goal to bring his tally to 1-5, four points from frees.
However, it was the indiscipline at the back, hesitation in attack and the countless misplaced passes that ensured Carlow were able to stay in touch.
Smith was in rare form from placed balls and despite kicking two efforts wide, he punished sloppy Meath defending with some wonderful kicks.
Gillespie's carelessness in the tackle warranted two yellow cards and that led to the concession of silly frees.
The Carlow red cards had no bearing on the game, but it might for next week's replay as both Reid and Hayden received straight reds for exchanges with Donal Keogan and Joe Sheridan respectively.
The hesitation in attack was highlighted on a couple of occasions by Cian Ward and Sheridan when both men found themselves in excellent positions to tap over what would have been insurance scores in the closing stages, but bizarrely they opted to offload possession instead.
Ward and Sheridan had done a lot of good work to create openings, but undid it by taking wrong options. That certainly wasn't the case for Brian Farrell, who proved to be Meath's outstanding performer.
The Nobber player was a constant threat and while he was wayward with a couple of snap shots, it was that decisiveness and willingness to have a go that secured his four points from play.
Apart from the malaise of poor decision-making by some, it was a decent enough attacking display with 1-9 of Meath's tally coming from play, but they really should have had a lot more as they hit the woodwork on four occasions and also squandered several opportunities.
The loss of Stephen Bray before the throw-in to a recurrence of a hamstring injury picked up in training on the Tuesday before the game was a major blow and his absence was sorely felt.
Another disappointing aspect was the early rough-house treatment dished out to Graham Reilly.
Carlow had obviously highlighted Reilly as their biggest threat and they hit him with a couple of very heavy challenges early on.
Carlow midfielders Brendan Murphy and Darragh Foley received yellow cards in the opening 23 minutes, but that type of play was typical of the disruptive tactics employed by Carlow, and it worked.
Sheridan was also starved of possession and so much of Meath attacking threat had to come from the direct brilliance of Farrell and Reilly.
All credit to Carlow because they stuck to their tactics superbly. They were determined to make life as difficult as possible for Meath and they succeeded. It wasn't pretty football by any stretch of the imagination, but it was effective and they got exactly what they deserved - a replay.
At no stage did Carlow look overwhelmed. Even after the conceded the opening goal to Ward after 22 minutes, they responded with the next four scores to close the gap to the minimum.
It was that pluck and spirit that Meath couldn't match. In the opening 12 minutes it took a brace of close range frees from Ward to keep Meath in touch as Reid and Brian Murphy (free) got Luke Dempsey's side off the mark.
Meath threatened to pull clear when Graham Reilly pointed superbly before Donncha Tobin reacted well to fist over after Farrell's effort struck the woodwork.
The first of several fouls by Gillespie resulted in Daniel St Ledger pointing a Carlow free from over 50 metres.
Meath looked comfortable again when Farrell turned Brendan Kavanagh superbly before pointing. Then a mis-placed pass from Sheridan found Ward and the Wolfe Tones man powered forward before finishing well to make it 1-5 to 0-3.
It could have been even better for Meath, but both Ward and Paddy Gilsenan, who replaced Bray in the starting line-up, hit the woodwork again.
Carlow countered superbly with Brian Murphy pointing from play before Smith converted a free to make it 0-5 to 1-5.
Gillespie's second successive foul on Brendan Murphy earned him his first yellow card in the 30th minute and after that both Brian Murphy and Smith struck excellent frees to cut the deficit to 0-7 to 1-5.
Farrell took advantage of excellent work by Sheridan who dispossessed Brendan Murphy to fly kick over the bar and secure a 1-6 to 0-7 interval lead, but it was clear that Meath were still operating below their best.
Reilly pointed within 35 seconds of the restart to settle Meath, but more poor defending saw Keogan and Shane McAnarney foul Smith for a free which he converted and then he capitalised on a sloppy clearance to make it 0-9 to 1-7.
Farrelly and McAnarney created an opening for Ward to make it 1-8 to 0-9, but then Gillespie saw red for another poor tackle on Brendan Murphy.
Credit to Meath, they didn't capitulate and maintained their two-point cushion with points from Farrell (two) and Mickey Burke cancelling out scores from Foley, Brendan Murphy and Smith.
When Reilly galloped forward to make it 1-12 to 0-12 with five minutes remaining there was a sense Meath would hold on. Then in the 69th minute Reid was sent-off and two minutes later Hayden saw red.
Meath sensed victory, but then they fell asleep. Keith Jackson was allowed to steer a long-range low drive towards goal, David Gallagher should have gathered with ease, but he fumbled and Smith tapped to the net.
Meath had one last chance, but the attack broke down. Meath are well short off being major contenders for honours.
Meath - C Ward 1-3 frees; B Farrell 0-4; G Reilly 0-3; D Tobin 0-1; M Burke 0-1.
Carlow - J J Smith 1-5 four frees; Brian Murphy 0-3 two frees; P Reid 0-1; D St Ledger 0-1 free; D Foley 0-1; Brendan Murphy 0-1.
Meath - David Gallagher; Donal Keogan, Kevin Reilly, Bryan Menton; Donncha Tobin, Shane McAnarney, Mickey Burke; Conor Gillespie, Graham Reilly; Alan Forde, Paddy Gilsenan, Brian Meade; Brian Farrell, Joe Sheridan, Cian Ward. Subs - Jamie Queeney for Forde 45 mins, Mark Collins for Gilsenan 50m.
Carlow - T O'Reilly; P Murphy, C Lawlor, B Kavanagh; K Nolan, S Redmond, T Bolger; Brendan Murphy, D Foley; Brian Murphy, P Reid, E Ruth; J J Smith, S Gannon, D St Ledger. Subs - Derek Hayden for St Ledger 36 mins, B Lambe for Bolger 52m, K Jackson for Foley 60m, C Murphy for Brian Murphy 67m.
Barry Cassidy (Derry).