Meath's Conor Dixon (blue helmet) shows the kind of tenacity to win the ball that distinguished his, and his team's display, against Westmeath today. PHOTO: GERRY SHANAHAN/WWW.CYBERIMAGES.NET.

Battling young Royals hit back to chalk up a dramatic draw

Corrigan's charges recover from nine-point deficit



In a week of turmoil and turbulence in Meath hurling there was at least some cheer provided for those in the local game when Seanie Corrigan's team drew with Westmeath in the Leinster u-20 HC at Pairc Tailteann today.

The scoreline, at least, says correctly it was a draw but that's not even quarter of the story. The scoreline, for instance, doesn't indicate how Meath came back from a nine-point deficit 16 minutes into the game to haul themselves back into contention.

The scoreline doesn't indicate or highlight either the immense resilience and spirit the young Royals displayed in not only containing a physically strong, skilful Westmeath side but in pushing on in the final moments to earn a free from which Mark Leavy fired over for the equaliser four minutes into added time. The final whistle ended when the puck out was taken.

What a display this was from Meath. What a revival. What character was shown by the boys in green and gold because it would have been all too easy for them to collapse, especially when the tide was against them.

They didn't. Instead they battled and battled to earn the draw against strongly-fancied opponents - and almost achieved a victory too.

Small moments can have a big influence on a game. With 48 minutes played Westmeath were awarded a sideline cut which should have gone Meath's way.

Darragh McCormack brilliantly scored a point directly from the cut (the second time he did that in the game). Perhaps inspired by sense of injustice Meath refused to wilt even though all their hopes appeared to be collapsing around them at that stage.

The closing stages especially demonstrated the character in the team. On 50 minutes Meath trailed by three but two converted frees by Leavy added to a monster effort from Tom Shine from midfield levelled matters with 57 minutes on the clock.

Suddenly Meath looked like they might push on. Instead, Westmeath fashioned a score of their own with David Williams pointing from a free. The hard grafting Cian Calhoun had a chance for Meath but his shot went narrowly wide. It looked like it was Westmeath's day after all.

Instead of giving up hope Meath kept believing. Still. They launched one last attack.

It resulted in a mother and father of a scramble close to the Westmeath posts. Referee Mark Ryan blew his whistle and gave Meath a free 20 metres in - and Leavy cooly converted.

The free was awarded to the left of the posts but a Westmeath player must have said something because the match official brought the ball in front of the posts. An accomplished free-taker like Leavy was never going to miss from there.

"I suppose everyone in our team was a bit shaky at the start, they got an early goal that put them in a good position but we grew into it and got the draw which I think we deserved. Maybe we will rue missed chances to win it but we'll take the point and move on to next week," said midfielder Tom Shine, who capped an outstanding display with five points, four frees.

His brother Daire was ruled out of the game with an injury but Charlie McCormack stepped up to the plate manfully.

Conor Dixon, Cian O'Sullivan, Calhoun, Paul Hennessy, McCormack and Craig Gilsenan really measured up in terms of defending. When it came to attacking Meath's formidable threat was underlined in the way eight players got on the scoresheet.

Everyone in the Meath team were heroes in their own way. Balls were blocked, clearance made, chances created and taken that, collectively, proved match-saving.

A feature of Meath's display was some top class points from play with Lorcan Byrne, Cian O'Sullivan, Mark Horan, Darragh Heffernan and Paddy Barnwell all slotting over quality scores.

Both Westmeath goals were scored in the opening-half with David O'Reilly rampaging through the Meath cover to fired to the net after six minutes.

The visitors' second strike arrived just before the interval when Williams was fouled in was he cut in and made towards the Meath goals and was fouled as he did so.

Williams himself fired home from the penalty puck giving Ben Mather no chance. Those goals gave the Lake County a 2-10 to 0-11 interval lead and the Meath's hopes looked bleak.

At times too in the second-half it looked like the Royals were sunk but, urged on by manager Corrigan from the sideline, they had other ideas.

Sure Meath were fortunate in ways. Westmeath hit a load of wides compared to just three from the home side but a team needs a bit of luck to achieve anything.

The scoreboard indicated a draw but this felt like a victory for Meath and the team was roundly applauded at the end by the spectators who watched this gripping contest played out in the sunshine.

The result was indeed a bright moment in a bleak week for Meath hurling.


Meath - Mark Leavy 0-5 frees; Tom Shine 0-5 four frees; Patrick Jordan 0-2 frees; Lorcan Byrne 0-2; Cian O'Sullivan 0-2; Mark Horan 0-1; Lorcan Byrne 0-2; Darragh Heffernan 0-1; Paddy Barnwell 0-1.

Westmeath - 1-6 five frees, penalty; David O'Reilly 1-2; Darragh McCormack 0-4 two sideline cuts; Conor Heffernan 0-1; Peter Clarke 0-1.


Meath - Ben Mather (Donaghmore/Ashbourne); Cian O'Sullivan (Kilmessan), Cian Calhoun (Kildakey), Conor Dixon (Longwood); Paul Hennessy (Kilskyre/Moylagh), Charlie McCormack (Kiltale), Craig Gilsenan (Kiltale); Mark Horan (Kilmessan), Tom Shine (Kilskyre/Moylagh); Darragh Heffernan (Trim), Domhnall Rogers (Ratoath), Lorcan Byrne (Kilmessan); Mark Leavy (Dunderry), Paddy Barnwell (Kildalkey), Patrick Jordan (Na Fianna). Subs - Noah Conroy (Kilmessan) for Horan 53m, Darren Higgins (Kilskyre/Moylagh) for Jordan 63m, Eoin Bright (Na Fianna) for McCormack 62m, Darren Higgins (Kilskyre/Moylagh) for Jordan 63m, Darragh Horan (Kilmessan) for Barnwell 64m.

Westmeath - Sean Jackson; David Maloney, Jack Murtagh, Tom Flynn; Darragh Smith, Brian McCabe, Conor Gaffney; Rian Holding, Ivan Smyth; David Williams, Darragh McCormack, David O'Reilly; Conor Heffernan, Peter Murphy, Peter Clarke. Subs - Calum McKeogh for Smyth half-time, Shane Ormsby for Heffernan 41m, Cian Geary for McCabe 46m.

Referee - Mark Ryan (Dublin).

Meath's Paddy Barnwell battles for possession with Westmeath's Rian Holding.