Derry 1-14, Meath 1-11
Niall Loughlin was Derry’s goalscoring hero as Damian Barton’s Oak Leafers fought back to earn a place in the last 16 of the All Ireland Series with victory over Meath on Saturday at Owenbeg.
Meath, whose manager Mick O’Dowd stepped down after the game after four year in charge, dominated the opening half with the benefit of a strong wind at their backs and led by seven at the break before Derry produced a superb second 35 minutes to turn the game on its head, Loughlin’s 68th minute goal the first time the home side had led in the game.
Backed by the strong breeze Meath took control of the early exchanges as Derry retreated 13 men inside their 45. Padriac Harnan shot the visitors in front inside two minutes before a Graham Reilly double - the second after he easily dispossessed a static Conor McAtamney on his own 45m line - increased the advantage to three points.
Meath continued to press, a Mickey Newman free taking the Royals tally to four points before Mark Lynch finally got the Oak Leafers up and running with an 16th minute point.
Facing into the wind, Derry build up play was often laborious and allowed Meath to funnel back in numbers and close off the route to goal. In contrast and despite the large numbers of Derry players getting behind the ball, Meath were finding too much space inside the home ‘45’ with the home players seemingly content to stand off their Meath counterparts.
Those two or three yards space the Derry defence seemed to be affording the Meath attack was allowing the Royals t pick out runners too easily with Meath’s only problem being an inability to turn chances into scores.
The visitors were always threatening goals with their right hand flank a particularly fruitful channel as Donnacha Tobin cut through the Derry defence time and time again. but it was Cillian O’Sullivan who manufactured their first goal chance when he sent Donal Lenihan clear along the inside right channel but he flashed his shot across goal and inches wide at the far post.
O’Sullivan and Newman both registered frees to increase the lead to 0-6 to 0-1 on 20 minutes before a lovely curling Lynch effort kept the home side in touch.
It was quickly can celled out by Newman again although when Lynch again responded for 0-7 to 0-3, Derry would have been happy with the scoreline given the visitors superiority on the opening 25 minutes.
That complexion changed with the opening goal which had more than a look of ‘square ball’ about it. Again Graham Reilly drove through the heart of the Derry defence, this time picking out Tobin whose shot was touched in at the back post by the lurking Newman. It looked like the forward had gone too early but despite the Derry protests, the goal was given and Meath held a 1-07 to 0-03 lead.
It could have been more as well had it not been for a brilliant block by Gareth McKinless. Newman had turned the Ballinderry man turned but as he looked set to hit his second goal, McKinless dived at the forward’s feet to turn the ball away from danger.
James Kielt became only the second Derry player to score with a nice point on 32 minutes but it was Meath and O’Sullivan who had the final say of the half from another free to leave the visitors 1-08 to 0-04 up at the interval.
Derry need a big second half response and within seconds of the restart they seemed intent on having it. Seventeen seconds to be precise. That was all it took for Lynch to fire over the home side’s first score and within two minutes Christopher Bradley, Eoghan Brown and Kielt (free) had brought the deficit back to three points at 0-8 to 1-08.
When Lynch sent over a fabulous score which was followed by a ‘monster’ of a free from Kielt that barely bounced on it’s way out of Owenbeg, the game was back to one point and Derry had all the momentum.
Mickey Burke arrested that slightly with a score and when Newman tapped over his fourth point, Meath had restored a three point advantage. More worrying for Damian Barton was a shoulder injury to Lynch and while their talisman stayed on the pitch, he looked to be carrying the injury for the remainder of the game.
And there was mystery surrounding the game’s other stand-out performer, Mickey Newman, who was bizarrely replaced by Meath manager Mickey O’Dowd in the 51st minute despite not apparent injury.
Lynch’s injury was taking a toll on the home attack and their defensive efforts were not helped by a black card for Brendan Rogers after he dragged down the impressive O’Sullivan. He was replaced by Neil Forester and three points adrift as the game entered the final five minutes, Derry stepped up a gear.
First, the returning enda Lynn showed he still knew where the posts where with a nice point before another Lynch free left one between them again and still four minutes to play.
Then came the Loughlin goal. There was little doubt Kielt was shooting for a point when he sent his shot in but the composure the young Greenlough showed to dummy both Alan Douglas and keeper Paddy O’Rourke was superb and left him with an empty net.
Loughlin’s composure was in stark contrast to the five minutes injury time that followed. The tension wasn’t helped by Derry going down to 14 men after Conor McAtamney was shown a black card for dragging down Eamon Wallace. Derry had used their six subs and now had to hang on.
Derry: Thomas Mallon; Gareth McKinless, Christopher McKaigue (0-1), Karl McKaigue; Ciaran McFaul, Brendan Rogers, Ciaran Mullan; Conor McAtamney, Niall Holly; Danny Heavron, Christopher Bradley (0-1), Eoghan Brown (0-1); James Kielt (0-4, 3f), Emmett McGuckin; Mark Lynch (0-6, 2f). (Subs) Niall Toner for E McGuckin (inj), 27mins; Niall Loughlin (1-0) for E Brown, 48mins; Emmett Bradley for N Holly, 48mins; Enda Lynn (0-1) for C Bradley, 53mins; Neil Forester for B Rogers (Black Card) 61mins; Liam McGoldrick for C Mullan, 62mins;
Black Cards: Brendan Rogers 61mins; Conor McAtamney, 70mins;
Meath: Paddy O’Rourke; Donnacha Tobin, Donal Keogan, Mickey Burke; Darragh Smyth, Padraic Harnan (0-1), Alan Douglas; Harry Rooney, Cian O’Brien; Graham Reilly (0-2), Cillian O’Sullivan (0-1, 1f), Bryan McMahon; Donal Lenihan, Seamus Lavin, Mickey Newman (1-4, 3f). (Subs) Eamon Wallace for B McMahon, 42mins; Dalton McDonagh for M Newman, 51mins; Andrew Tormey (0-1, 1f) for D Lenihan, 60mins; Sean Tobin for D Keogh, 64mins;
Referee: Paddy Neilan (Roscommon)