Dublin's Con O'Callaghan evades Meath's Eoin Harkin in Parnell Park tonight

Valiant Royals fall short in Parnell Park cracker

The familiar trend of 'close but no cigar' continued at Parnell Park tonight as Meath pushed All-Ireland champions Dublin all the way before succumbing to a sixth successive NFL Div 1 loss by just 0-19 to 1-20.

Moral victories are one thing, but the fact remains that Meath lost for the ninth competitive game in succession and after a gap of almost eight months since their last outing on the 1st March when they lost narrowly to Galway in Navan, they still are looking for a winning formula.

Despite this defeat at Parnell Park there is still plenty to be positive about and while there is still a considerable gap between Meath and the elite class that margin is narrowing with every outing.

As in the losses to Galway, Kerry and Mayo back in Spring, Meath will reflect on what might have been against Dublin.

If Mark Brennan had found Shane McEntee with his kickout in the sixth minute that led to the only goal of the game things might have been very different.

If Shane Walsh or Cathal Hickey had buried one of the three goal chances they had between them or if Meath had shown more clinical accuracy in front of the posts rather than kicking 11 wides then who knows what might have happened?

If John Small had picked up a second yellow card that his late, late hit on Meath's joint captain Bryan Menton in the 50th minute deserved and received his rightful marching orders then the Royals would have had every chance.

However, it is those tales of woe that left Meath reflecting on another excellent performance, but with nothing to show for it except maybe a realisation that the strength of the panel is growing and the hopes of brighter days ahead are increasing.

Forced to field without several players who were deemed close contacts with Covid-19 cases in recent days and also because of injury, Meath manager Andy McEntee had to dig deep into his reserves and what he found were players who didn't let him down.

Dunsany's Eoin Harkin marked his debut with a competent, tidy display under immense pressure, while others like Cathal Hickey and Jason Scully also did well to put their hand up for selection when the championship finally rolls around.

While the newcomers did well it was the outstanding leadership of Cillian O'Sullivan that shone most. The Moynalvey man was central to everything Meath did well and his work rate was phenomenal throughout, matched by the intensity of Bryan Menton, Donal Keogan, Ronan Jones, David Toner, Shane Walsh and Thomas O'Reilly.

Such an outcome didn't look likely early on as, despite opening the scoring from a Walsh point in the fourth minute, Meath found themselves 0-1 to 1-4 down after nine minutes.

Con O'Callaghan cancelled out Walsh's point before Brennan's resultant kickout failed to find Shane McEntee and Paddy Small laid off to Dean Rock for a simple tap in to an empty net.

Two more points from Rock either side of a Ciaran Kilkenny score established Dublin's six-point advantage, but Meath didn't panic with O'Sullivan and Walsh replying with the next two scores before Rock landed a free to give Dublin a 1-5 to 0-3 lead at the first water break.

When play resumed brilliant improvisation from O'Sullivan and a clever pass from Keogan set up Walsh for a goal chance, but the Dublin defence smothered him quickly and he settled for a punched point.

Dublin replied with points from the mercurial Brian Fenton, Kilkenny from a mark and one from Paddy Small as they extended their lead to 1-8 to 0-4 by the 23rd minute.

Menton replied for Meath, but points from O'Callaghan and Paddy Small either side of a superb score for Harkin stretched Dublin's advantage to 1-10 to 0-6.

However again Meath pressed hard and were rewarded with three successive frees from O'Reilly following two fouls on O'Sullivan and one on Keogan. The visitors were also denied a goal when Stephen Cluxton made a brilliant save to deny Hickey before O'Reilly converted another free with the last kick of the half to close the gap to 0-10 to 1-10 at the interval.

It took Fenton just 14 seconds after the restart to stretch Dublin's lead, but again Meath took over as they squeezed Dublin on their kickouts and forced them into uncharacteristic errors which O'Sullivan and O'Reilly punished from placed balls before Walsh added one from play to narrow the deficit to the minimum, 0-13 to 1-11, in the 43rd minute.

Three minutes later Walsh fired a great chance into the side netting as Cluxton narrowed the angle and on the counter-attack David Toner fouled Eoin Murchan and Rock converted to settle Dublin again.

O'Reilly responded with a free after John Small's late collision with Menton that went without a caution from Kildare referee Brendan Cawley, but Rock converted two more frees either side of the second water break to edge Dublin three clear again, 1-14 to 0-14.

A free from O'Sullivan was countered by scores from Rock (free) and O'Callaghan as Dublin moved 1-16 to 0-15 ahead with 10 minutes remaining, but unlike previous games in this unusual year's league Meath didn't fade away.

Brian Conlon lofted over from distance before Rock and Jordan Morris traded scores to maintain the three-point gap heading into injury-time.

Quickfire scores from Kilkenny and O'Callaghan ensured the points would be Dublin's, but excellent scores from Morris and James Conlon sandwiched a late Kilkenny point to ensure that the plaudits went to Meath.

SCORERS

Dublin - Dean Rock 1-8 five frees; Con O'Callaghan 0-4; Ciaran Kilkenny 0-4 one mark, Paddy Small 0-2; Brian Fenton 0-2.

Meath - Thomas O'Reilly 0-6 frees; Shane Walsh 0-4; Cillian O'Sullivan 0-3 two frees; Jordan Morris 0-2; Bryan Menton 0-1; Eoin Harkin 0-1; Brian Conlon 0-1; James Conlon 0-1.

TEAMS

Dublin - Stephen Cluxton; Cian Murphy, David Byrne, Michael Fitzsimons; John Small, Jonny Cooper, Robbie McDaid; Brian Fenton, Emmet O Conghaile; Niall Scully, Ciaran Kilkenny, Eric Lowndes; Paddy Small, Con O'Callaghan, Dean Rock. Subs - Eoin Murchan for Cooper 45 mins, Brian Howard for O Conghaile 48m, Cian O'Sullivan for J Small 54m, Aaron Byrne for P Small 63m, Sean Bugler for Lowndes 70m.

Meath - Mark Brennan; David Toner, James McEntee, Eoin Harkin; Gavin McCoy, Cathal Hickey, Donal Keogan; Bryan Menton, Ronan Jones; Shane McEntee, Jason Scully, Ethan Devine; Thomas O'Reilly, Cillian O'Sullivan, Shane Walsh. Subs - Jordan Morris for Devine 30mins, Brian Conlon for McCoy 35m, James Conlon for Walsh 61m, Donal Lenihan for O'Reilly 66m.

Referee – Brendan Cawley (Kildare).

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