A goal apiece from Graham Geraghty and Richie Kealy in either half proved the difference between Meath and Dublin, as the Royals beat their Leinster rivals by 2-11 to 0-14 in the provincial decider at Croke Park this afternoon. Dublin will rue a series of missed chances following a much improved display in the second half, having trailed by four points at the interval. Colin Moran, Paul Curran, Ciaran Whelan and substitute Vinny Murphy all spurned possible scoring opportunities as Tommy Carr's men failed to convert their territorial dominance, but Meath held on thanks to the scoring prowess of goal hero Kealy, Evan Kelly and Trevor Giles, who helped themselves to three points each.
Jason Sherlock could have given Dublin a dream start when he turned Mark O'Reilly some distance out and raced through on goal. But coming in from the left and with O'Reilly chopping at his heals, the usually prolific forward pulled his well struck shot just inches wide of Cormac O'Sullivan's right hand post with just two minutes on the clock. However, it was Sean Boylan's men who enjoyed the early luck, when Dublin 'keeper Davy Byrne seemed to be unsighted by the afternoon sun and came off second best in a dual with Graham Geraghty. The bustling Meath centre-forward capitalised when Byrne fumbled under a high ball, and he made no mistake by punching the ball to the net to put Meath a goal in front after just four minutes.
Donal Curtis stretched their lead with a well taken point four minutes later, before corner forward Wayne McCarthy opened the scoring for Dublin with a free in the ninth minute. Meath's defence was very much on top during the early exchanges, holding firm and coping admirably with Dublin's sporadic attacks, with Ciaran Whelan uncharacteristically subdued in midfield. Meath's midfield pairing of Nigel Crawford and John McDermott were always in control despite the impressive grafting of Darren Homan, and it was no surprise that they enjoyed the lionshare of possession and scores during the first-half.
A tussle between Darren Fay and Ian Robertson sparked an unnecessary brawl involving several players in the 12th minute, but referee Michael Curley managed to restore order without taking any names. However, Cormac Murphy, lucky not to have been carded for his part in the ugly scenes earlier, was the first player into the book for a high challenge on 14 minutes, while Robertson joined him two minutes later for a late tackle.
Evan Kelly, a constant menace throughout, impressed with his clever running and composure, and gave Jonathan Magee a torrid time in the half-back line. The Drumree clubman hit three excellent scores to add to points from Giles and Kealy to give Meath a 1-06 to 0-05 lead at the break, but with Whelan showing renewed vigour on the restart, the Dubs clawed themselves back into the game.
The Raheny player scored within a minute of the whistle with a typically powerful surging run from the middle, and with further scores from Colin Moran and another superb Whelan effort, Dublin closed the gap. Ollie Murphy and Curtis hit back with points for Meath and could have edged further clear in the 48th minute when outstanding defending from Shane Ryan and Paddy Christie denied Geraghty a one-on-one with Byrne. However, Giles converted the resulting 45 and within ten minutes Meath did get the second crucial goal when Kealy latched on to a clever through-ball from Nigel Nestor to finish confidently from 15 yards and stretch the Royal county's lead to five points.
Vinny Murphy replaced Senan Connell on 52 minutes and took up his traditional centre-forward role as Dublin attempted to get back into the game. McCarthy pulled two back from frees, but a succession of missed opportunities eventually proved Dublin's undoing. Curran missed a glorious chance to close the gap when he recorded his county's ninth wide, missing an easy effort from close range in the 64th minute with the clock ticking away.
Moran missed an equally gilt edged chance minutes later, but wasted his excellent approach work with a sliced effort that went well wide. Moran missed another effort, this time a free from an acute angle on 70 minutes to compound Dublin's misery, but despite a well taken point from the same player in the 72nd minute, Meath held their three point advantage as manager Sean Boylan claimed his eight Leinster crown for the Royals. After the game, Boylan summed up the relief of his county by admitting: "I don't know how we won it. I honestly don't know."
Meanwhile, in the minor final Dublin enjoyed a comfortable 1-17 to 0-06 victory over Offaly.
Filed by Shane Murray