Royals secure win with late surge
When they needed to most Meath found the energy, the conviction, the hunger to find that something extra and secure a place in the All-Ireland u-20 HC B final.
They defeated Down 3-18 to 2-12 at Clan Na Gael's neat ground in the semi-final at Dundalk this evening in a contest that ebbed and flowed but which in the end the Royals deserved to win with half-forward Jack Lanigan capping a hugely influential display with 1-9. The ever-busy, hard-working Jack Cottrell and Cormac Keyes also found the net for the winners.
Peter Durnin's team delved into their reserves and found they had the extra qualities needed to get them over the line and subdue a Down side that looked at one stage like they might push on to win.
Lanigan's tally was obviously a major factor in securing the win with his goal in injury time coming from a sideline cut.
It was a score worthy of embellishing any team's performance with Lanigan hitting the ball from the sideline about 25 metes out. He generated the necessary power and found the accuracy needed to ensure the sliotar flew, arrow like, into the Down net.
He could have taken a bow at that stage because it was a wonderful way to sign off on a victory in which he was a one of the chief architects - as his noteworthy tally suggests.
Yet there were heroes all over the pitch for the hard-grafting Meath side who led 1-7 to 0-6 at the interval but were hauled back on level terms midway through the second-half before finding that extra, crucial gear.
The manner in which Meath finished so strongly was one of the main reasons for their success but so too was their workrate and resilience.
That resilience was certainly needed when, after just 14 minutes Meath lost James Murray to injury. He had been a hugely influential figure in their win over Wicklow the previous week. Before departing this evening he fired over a point from a sideline cut, a score that underlined his talent. Luke Horan came on in his place and did very well putting forward his case for inclusion.
Not that this was a perfect performance from Meath. Far from it. In the opening half they registered 11 wides, many of them caused by players who delivered breeze-assisted passes into the forwards only to find that they put just a little too much pace on the ball in the tight pitch. They corrected that habit and prospered.
Helped by those wides Down stayed in close contact with Meath for much of the opening half but the young Royals took a major step forward to victory with one of the best moves of the match shortly before the break.
Killyon's Dylan Farrell - who had a fine game covering back in defence - took a sideline cut and found Mikey Cole who in turn passed to Justin Coyne. He passed to Cottrell who unleashed a powerful shot from about 20 metres out. The Down goalkeeper had no chance and the ball nestled in the net. It was a super score, cleverly worked, brilliantly executed by Cottrell.
With Coyne, Dylan Farrell (Trim), Lanigan (two), Keyes, Murray and Josh Harris tagging on points Meath had that relatively comfortable interval advantage. Tom McGrattan was Down's main marksman in that opening half firing over three points while Sean Hughes (two) and Stuart Martin also contributed scores.
The tempo of the game went up a few notches in the second-half as a delicious cooling breeze blew in perhaps from the nearby Irish Sea. With Lanigan increasingly becoming a central figure Meath edged ahead only to be hauled back.
With 45 minutes on the clock it was 1-11 apiece with Down getting their goal when Stuart Martin surprised the Meath defence and found the net - also from a sideline cut. Instead of wilting as might be expected it was then Meath found that extra gear to push on and win.
The enterprising Cole also hit two points in that second-half for the boys in green and gold with Brian Moore and Keyes others who fired over. Excellent scores all.
With 55 minutes played Meath got their second goal with Cole, Moore and that man Lanigan involved in its creation. The ball was played across the Down goalmouth and Keyes bent low to direct the ball home. It was a piece of opportunism at it's best.
The closing stages were largely controlled by Meath. The Mourne County boys did manage to get a second goal on 57 minutes when Oisin Coulter made the most of some hesitancy in the Meath defence but it ultimately proved to be a mere consolation.
Then just before the end Lanigan delivered his coup de grace from the sideline cut. The Down net was ruffled and their hopes finally melted away.
The audacious, superbly-executed goal put the finishing touches to a deserved victory.
Now it's onto the final against Derry who defeated Sligo 2-19 to 1-15 in the other semi-final.
Meath - Jack Lanigan 1-9, goal sideline cut, fout frees; Cormac Keyes 1-2; Jack Cottrell 1-0; Mikey Cole 0-2; James Murray 0-1, sideline cut; Justin Coyne 0-1; Dylan Farrell (Trim) 0-1; Josh Harris 0-1; Brian Moore 0-1.
Down - Stuart Martin 1-2 goal sideline cut; Tom McGrattan 0-5 one free; Oisin Coulter 1-0; Sean Hughes 0-3; Aodhan Furlong 0-1; Ciaran Watson 0-1 '65'.
Meath - Conor Ryan; Ben Holden, Gary Fleming, Dylan Farrell (Killyon); Adam O'Connor, Cian Kelly, Conor Fitzgerald; Justin Coyne, Dylan Farrell (Trim); Jack Lanigan, Cormac Keyes, James Murray; Jack Cottrell, Mikey Cole, Josh Harris. Subs - Luke Horan for Murray 18 mins, Brian Moore for Cottrell 41m, Shane Clarke for Harris 54m.
Down - Jon Fisher; John Dorrian, Michael Toner, Eoin Pucci; Ryan Convery, Ciaran Watson, Aodhan Furling; Ciaran McMullan, Caolan Coultar; Stuart Martin, Sean Hughes, James Clarke; Tom McGrattan, Francis Caldwell, Owen McDermott. Subs - Tiernan Murphy for Caldwell 38 mins, Eoin Magee for McDermott 40m, Oisin Coulter for Clarke 51m, James Duggan for McMullan 58m.
Referee - Kevin Brady (Louth).