Fiachra Ward in action for Meath on Sunday evening.
Fiachra Ward in action for Meath on Sunday evening.
Meath minors produced a mighty performance at Páirc Esler on Sunday evening when they sent Ulster champions Tyrone crashing through the exit door following a dramatic and thrilling All-Ireland MFC quarter-final tussle.
This was a real edge-of-the-seat spectacle laced with some superb scores and packed with skill as two excellent teams literally slugged it out for an absorbing 60 minutes and some added time that spiked the senses.
From the first second to the last, this was a classic. Meath's victory was unexpected, although team manager Andy McEntee would not agree with that view, but this still ranks as one of the best performances from a Royal County under-age team since the provincial title was won in 2008.
McEntee had to make some late changes after he lost wing-back Ruairi O Coileain only minutes before the team was due to board the bus for Newry.
"This victory was for Ruairi, he fainted just before we were due to leave Navan and was brought to the hospital," McEntee told the Meath Chronicle after Sunday evening's victory.
Seamus Lavin (Dunboyne/Kilbride) was thrown into the cauldron of an All-Ireland quarter-final for his championship debut and delivered an accomplished performance.
And 28 minutes into the game McEntee had to replace goalkeeper Jack Hannigan due to injury which gave Robert Burlingham an opportunity to show why he was first-choice last year.
The Simonstown Gaels player seized the opportunity with a competent performance which will give the manager a selection headache the next day.
"I don't mind having selection problems like that, we have a strong panel and a positive attitude amongst the players, it's a good problem for us," said McEntee.
The tempo was fast and furious from the throw-in and Meath made a turbo-charged start with a goal in only 12 seconds from Barry Dardis who finished well.
Jason Daly and Cillian O'Sullivan combined to make the opening and Dardis fisted to the net.
Stephen Coogan added a point, but Tyrone bounced back with a goal and a point from Sean Hackett. The goal was a superb individual effort as Hackett raced through the Meath defence and rifled to the net. That set the trend for the rest of the half as the scores flowed at each end.
By the time the interval arrived the teams had shared 12 more points to go in on level terms, 1-7 apiece.
Mark Bradley was the form player for Tyrone and he gave his marker, Shane Gallagher a torrid half as he claimed four fine points from play. Hackett and Daniel McNulty were the other Tyrone scorers.
Meath struggled with the pace of Tyrone, but gradually adapted and were on terms at the end of the opening quarter with Cillian O'Sullivan and Coogan on the mark.
Coogan added two more points while O'Sullivan and Daly also split the posts with the balance swaying from one side to the other in a see-saw half.
The pattern remained for the early stages of the second-half with a brace of pointed Ward frees, sandwiched by a Michael Cassidy point for Tyrone giving Meath the edge.
Burlingham was called into action in the 12th minute of the second-half and he answered the call with a superb save from Hackett.
That was a great boost for the team and when Ward split the Tyrone posts at the other end from the counter attack it gave the Royals a 1-10 to 1-8 advantage which O'Sullivan increased to three by the end of the third-quarter.
Tyrone piled on the pressure and the wides before a brace of James McGahan points (one free) left the minimum in it.
The gap remained the same with five minutes remaining as Ward (free) and Bradley traded scores, but a lapse in concentration gave Bradley another opportunity and he clinically drew the sides level.
With a minute of normal time remaining McGahan pointed Tyrone towards the winner's enclosure, but gutsy Meath countered and a centre from O'Sullivan caused mayhem in the Tyrone square as Coogan finished to the net with James McEntee following up to make sure the ball crossed the line.
Tyrone made the most of three minutes added time during which Bradley hit the post, McGahan added a point and centre-back Conor Mallon received a straight red card for an off-the-ball exchange.
Meath survived for a tremendous victory, a victory that will boost morale across all the clubs in the county.
Meath - Jack Hannigan (Donaghmore/Ashbourne); Conor Carton (Donaghmore/Ashbourne), Brian Power (Ratoath), Shane Gallagher (Simonstown Gaels); Declan Smyth (Dunsany), Padraig Harnan (Jenkinstown Gaels), Seamus Lavin (Dunboyne/Kilbride); Adam Flanagan (Clonard), Shane McEntee (Dunboyne/Kilbride); Cillian O'Sullivan (Jenkinstown Gaels 0-3), Jason Daly (Dunboyne/Kilbride 0-1), James McEntee (St Vincent's/Curraha); Barry Dardis (Summerhill 1-0), Stephen Coogan (Dunderry 1-4), Fiachra Ward (Wolfe Tones 0-4 three frees). Subs - Robert Burlingham (Simonstown Gaels) for Hannigan 28 mins, Anthony Neary (Na Fianna) for Smyth 45m, Patrick Kennelly (Dunderry) for Daly 50m.
Tyrone - D Martin; R Mullan, C Harvey, P Hampsey; C Corr, C Mallon, R Brennan; D McNulty (0-1), A Devlin; K McGeary, M Cassidy (0-1), R Sludden; M Bradley (0-6), J McGahan (0-4 two frees), S Hackett (1-2 one free). Subs - R McGlone for Sludden 51mins, D Carroll for McNulty 55m.
Referee - Fergal Kelly (Longford).
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