Meath minor hurlers deliver an All-Ireland title at The Downs
Good news stories have been conspicuous by their absence when it comes to Meath hurling, or for that matter football, in recent times. At The Downs GAA club's superb ground on Saturday the All-Ireland MHC B title was landed - and with considerable style and panache. There will be few All-Ireland titles bagged by any team from Meath, in either code, this year making Saturday's win a significant success. After all it's not as if the county is flooded with All-Ireland titles to the extent that we can be blasé about it. With a new stand, a fine pitch and plenty of parking for the spectators that turned up the Westmeath football venue was, despite the scepticism of some, the ideal location for this national final. Meath went into the game on the back of victories over Kerry and Armagh and those who suspected that the title was effectively 'in the bag' when Brendan Fitzsimons' side dug out a win against the Kingdom in their fortress in Tralee were proved right. Apart from brief spells in the opening half Meath - who shot 11 wides compared to nine from their opponents - were in front all the way. They went into the break leading 1-6 to 0-6 and proved to be the much better side in the second-half, upping the intensity and leaving their opponents tailing in the rear view mirror. They could even afford the luxury near the end of opting to take a point from a penalty with Ciaran Fitzsimons firing over rather than looking to try and find the net. Cillian O'Sullivan had earned the 'spot puck' after he was dragged down. The Meath players will reflect on this game with considerable satisfaction particularly Moylagh/Kilskyre player Willie McGrath. Hurling enthusiasts from places such as Kilskyre and Moylagh have often had to battle, against the odds, to keep the game alive in those areas and it helps that they now have a player who has an All-Ireland medal. With his pace and determination McGrath is the type of player that defences often find too hot to handle and so it proved on Saturday. Perhaps McGrath's greatest ability is to turn a half-chance into a score and his talent at doing just that was clearly demonstrated before half-time. Meath goalkeeper Conor Murray sent a long clearance deep into enemy territory. There wasn't much danger to the Roscommon backline when McGrath won possession about 20 metres out. A pass to a colleague looked the best option perhaps, at best, a shot for a point. Instead McGrath jinked past a couple of startled defenders created a few yards of space and fired to the net for a fine individual score that gave his side their three-point advantage at the interval. There was a little group of supporters from the Moylagh/Kilskyrne area at the game including Paddy Baugh, an ever present at Meath games of all codes, and understandably they were delighted when McGrath's shot hit the net. They must have been estatic when on 48 minutes their man again struck. This time Meath put together a fine passing move with James Toher and Brian McMahon getting the ball to O'Sullivan. The young Kiltale player was surrounded by markers when he got the ball, but a subtle, clever little pass released McGrath who finished from close range. That left the scores at 2-10 to 0-9 and you sensed at that stage that, barring a complete collapse at the wicket by Meath, there was only going to be one winner. It says a lot about the performance that seven Meath players got on the scoresheet. Clann na nGael's Fitzsimons led the way with four points, one from that penalty. He also tagged on three excellent, long-range scores from play, his shots combining neat wrist work and strength to propel the ball firmly between the posts. Fitzsimons showed character to bounce back and get four points after missing 'a sitter' from a free in front of the posts in the opening minutes. James Andrews was another who made his contribution to the win with three first-rate points from play. He looked a threat throughout and it was a surprise when he was called ashore in the second-half, although he may have picked up a knock. Others to contribute points were Toher, O'Sullivan, Vinny Moore and Aaron Ennis. At the back Meath had some stalwart performances particularly from James Kelly at full-back while Longwood's Damien Healy at centre-back also cut out a lot of ball. It says a lot about the work carried out by the Meath defence that most of the scores from a lively Roscommon side came from free-taker Robbie Fallon who bagged seven points. Roscommon twice led briefly in the opening half as they caused Meath plenty of problems with their running and drive. They almost snatched a goal when Fallon drove goalwards, but Murray produced a fine safe. We also had one of those increasingly regular 'umpire moments' on 22 minutes. Roscommon's Peter Leahy fired towards the posts, one umpire waved wide, the other went for the flag. They looked at each other, hesitated before the referee Christopher Browne from Galway indicated a point. There were a few jeers and cheers from the stand. It was one of the lighter moments from an evening that the Meath players and the well out-numbered handful of supporters from the Royal County will fondly recall. SCORERS Meath - W McGrath 2-1; C Fitzsimons 0-4 one penalty; J Andrews 0-3; J Toher 0-1; C O'Sullivan 0-1; A Ennis 0-1; V Moore 0-1. Roscommon - R Fallon 0-7, C Kenny 0-1; P Leahy 0-1; D Fallon 0-1. TEAMS Meath - Conor Murray (Gaeil Colmcille); Ger Foley (Killyon), James Kelly (Kiltale), Brendan Wright (Dunderry); Sean McGee (Trim), Damien Healy (Longwood), David Foley (Trim); Ciaran Fitzsimons (Clann na nGael), Killian O'Brien (Wolfe Tones); James Andrews (Trim), James Toher (Trim), Willie McGrath (Moylagh/Kilskyre); Cillian O'Sullivan (Kiltale), Aaron Ennis (Clann na nGael), Jack Regan (Kiltale). Subs - Vinny Moore (Navan O'Mahonys) for Regan 28 mins; B McMahon for Andrews 43m; C McCabe (Kiltale) for Ennis 57m; Andrew Fagan (Kildalkey) for Foley 60m; Dylan Keenan (Dunderry) for McGee 60m. Roscommon - N Fallon; R Byrne, C Shaw, L Kilcline; S Naughton, C Dolan, C Coyle; J Brennan, D Fallon; C Kenny, H Rooney, S Kilcommins; K Feehily, P Leahy, R Fallon. Subs - S McCormack for Kilcommons half-time; P Brennan for Feehily 58m; T Mullen for Rooney 59m. Referee - David Hughes (Galway).