Regan points Meath to Christy Ring Cup final
It's becoming a trait of this Meath team to show character, grit and guts when the need is strongest and just as Sligo were starting to turn the screw at Markievicz Park today the Royals found a way to claim a 0-24 to 0-18 victory and a place in the Christy Ring Cup final against Derry on Saturday 3rd June.
For most of today's game Meath kept Sligo at bay. They were superior hurlers, better stick men, crisper and sharper in possession and livelier in front of the posts, but when Sligo upped the intensity in the third quarter their visitors were rattled.
Meath went from a position of strength when Jack Regan landed another sensational long-range free to make it 0-15 to 0-10 to being under pressure with 11 minutes to go as Sligo clawed their back into the game 0-17 to 0-18.
With their dreams threatened Meath summoned their bench and with them came renewed vigour, hunger and fresh determination as they showed their superior fitness and withstood the increased physicality Sligo threw at them.
That increase in intensity rattled Meath in that third quarter, but they never bowed. Instead of buckling Adam Gannon landed a settling point and set up Niall McLarnon for his first.
Those scores settled Meath and they never looked back as they resumed their composed, confident style and eased over the winning line with plenty to spare, but enough to work on.
Meath never blew Sligo out of the water, it was more a slow turning of the crew. Sligo were allowed to stay in touch with some careless discipline and few harsh calls against Meath punished by the deadly Andrew Kilcullen.
However, Sligo's marksman Kilcullen was their only serious threat as they managed just five points from play against a well marshalled and resolute Meath rearguard.
Meath's contentment to keep clipping over points limited their goal chances and that contributed to allowing Sligo stay in the game.
The teams were tied three times in the opening nine minutes as Regan (free from halfway), Nicky Potterton and Eamon O Donnchadha had scores cancelled out by Kilcullen (two frees) and Fionn Moylan.
Two magnificent points from O Donnchadha and an equally impressive strike from Regan gave Meath some breathing space, 0-6 to 0-3, but Sligo hit back with two in succession from play from Diarmuid Hanniffy and Kilcullen.
Two Regan frees, one from his own 45-metre line, sandwiched a free from Kilcullen and edged Meath two clear before another free from his own 45 from free and two outstanding scores from play from Potterton and O Donnchadha made it 0-11 to 0-6.
Hanniffy fired over what turned out to be Sligo's penultimate score from play and when Kilcullen added two frees the deficit was down to 0-9 to 0-11.
Regan and Kilcullen exchanged frees again before Pa Ryan clipped over two scores in first-half injury-time to ensure a 0-14 to 0-10 interval lead for Meath.
Regan extended that advantage within a minute of the restart, but Sligo upped their work rate and intensity and hit five of the next seven points (four from Kilcullen placed balls and their last from play from Thomas Cawley) to close to 0-15 to 0-17. Regan and Martin Healy accounted for Meath's two scores in that spell.
Regan ended a 10 minute barren spell with one from a free, but Kilcullen added two more from 'soft' frees to leave the minimum between the teams, 0-17 to 0-18, with 11 minutes remaining.
Then Gannon settled Meath with his point and assist for McLarnon.
Regan landed another from a free before McLarnon grabbed his excellent second to make it 0-22 to 0-17.
Kilcullen closed Sligo's account in the 67th minute before Healy and James Kelly extended Meath's lead and ensured they had enough of a cushion to withstand any late efforts for goals Sligo could muster.
Meath - Jack Regan 0-10 nine frees; Eamonn O Donnchadha 0-4; Nicky Potterton 0-2; Niall McLarnon 0-2; Pa Ryan 0-2; Martin Healy 0-2; Adam Gannon 0-1; James Kelly 0-1.
Sligo - Andrew Kilcullen 0-14 12 frees, one '65'; Diarmuid Hanniffy 0-2; Fionn Moylan 0-1; Thomas Cawley 0-1.
Meath - Charlie Ennis; Mickey Burke, Shane Brennan, Brendan McKeon; Niall McLarnon, James Toher, Simon Ennis; Pa Ryan, Martin Healy; Padraig O'Hanrahan, Jack Regan, James Kelly; James Toher, Eamon Og O Donnchadha, Nicky Potterton. Subs - Mark O'Sullivan for Ryan 46 mins, Adam Gannon for O'Hanrahan 59m, James Murray for Potterton 61m, Sean Quigley for O Donnchadha 70m, David Murtagh for Healy 71m.
Sligo - Declan Reidy; Fionn Connolly, Niall Feehily, Kevin O'Kennedy; Gavin Connolly, Rory McHugh, Eoin Comerford; Niall Kilcullen, Ronan Molloy; Conor Hanniffy, Andrew Kilcullen, Diarmuid Hanniffy; Fionn Moylan, Conor Griffin, Thomas Cawley. Subs - Ronan Cox for Comerford 68 mins, Liam O'Kelly-Lynch for Moylan 70m.
Referee - James Clarke.