Meath and Westmeath must meet again after a game of two halves saw the Leinster rivals serve up an enthralling 2-12 to 3-09 draw in the final instalment of this year's All-Ireland quarter-finals at Croke Park this afternoon. Westmeath, knocked out of this year's championship by Meath at the first round stage, stormed to an unthinkable 3-07 to 1-06 advantage at the interval following goals from Paul Conway, Michael Ennis and Dessie Dolan. However, a dismal tally of two points in the second half allowed the Leinster champions back into the game, with Ollie Murphy hitting the all important equaliser less than two minutes from time to force a replay next weekend.
Luke Dempsey's men got off to a dream start when Conway struck the opening goal in the eighth minute, finishing with a low drive into the corner having found himself through on goal with just Cormac O'Sullivan to beat after a clever ball over the top from Ger Heavin. That score, together with earlier points from Dessie Dolan, Joe Fallon and Ger Heavin, gave the underdogs a stunning five point advantage, but Evan Kelly reduced the deficit immediately with a well taken point.
However, Westmeath continued to dominate the early exchanges and were rewarded for some resolute defending with a series of well-taken scores at the other end. The midfield duo of Rory O'Connell and David O'Shaughnessy were well on top, and with the full forward line dropping deep, half-forwards Heavin and Joe Fallon found plenty of space in behind the Meath defence. Another Dolan point stretched Westmeath's lead further, before another quickly worked free from Heavin put Michael Ennis through with just the 'keeper to beat to score a deserved second in the 17th minute.
Richie Kealy replied within a minute with a fine point, and the Westmeath defence showed their first signs of weakness four minutes later when Ollie Murphy escaped his marker, turned with ease and blasted a superb goal past Cathal Mullin to the delight of the Meath followers in the 37,000 strong crowd. Fallon added two more frees and Dolan struck from play to surge ahead once again, but Meath kept them in sight with scores from Nigel Crawford and Donal Curtis. However, it was Westmeath who had the final say of a dramatic first half when Dessie Dolan lobbed O'Sullivan a minute before the break. Dolan showed grit, determination and balance to fend off the challenge of Cormac Murphy and his calmly struck lob rebounded off the inside of the far post to give Westmeath an unlikely seven point advantage at the break.
Murphy, who had endured a torrid afternoon trying to shackle the inspired Dolan, was replaced by Ray Magee at half-time, and with a strong breeze at their backs, Meath looked a different side after the re-start. Points from Giles, Geraghty, Magee and Murphy edged them closer, but two Fallon points maintained a comfortable five-point cushion for the Midlanders on the hour. However, Fallon's point on 50 minutes proved to be their final score, and they were made to pay for a series of rushed attempts with further points from Giles and Crawford to pave the way for Murphy's dramatic equaliser in the dying minutes.
Graham Geraghty's persistence at full forward opened the way for Murphy to blast home from ten yards to deservedly claim the second draw of this weekend's quarter-finals and force a replay which is likely to take place at headquarters next Saturday. The winner of the replay will meet either Kerry or Dublin in the semis.
Filed by Shane Murray