A no-nonsense second half run of 2-06 without reply from Sean Boylan’s Meath men saw them claim their first championship win at Croke Park since 2001 as 14-man Wicklow just fell apart, losing 2-13 to 1-08 having had substitute midfielder Ciaran Clancy dismissed for a second yellow card.

The Royals hit as many points (0-07) as wides in an erratic first half and were paying the price as Wicklow substitute Donal McGillicuddy palmed into the Meath net three minutes after the break. Two quick points from dual forward Wayne O’Gorman and Tommy Gill (free) suddenly had them 1-06 to 0-07 to the good, but spurred on by old hands Trevor Giles, back at half forward, and the flighty forward work of Evan Kelly, Boylan began his 22nd championship season with a win.

Meath were lucky to have St Michael’s forward Daithi Regan (1-05, 2f) on form this afternoon and he opened the scoring with a 40-metre free and seventh minute point from play. Three minutes later, the first cohesive Wicklow attack saw Brendan O’hAnnaidh fist their first point from ten metres.

Alan Ellis, to be replaced by McGillicuddy at half time, found the rebound of Tony Hannon’s point attempt on 13 minutes to point and cancel Charles McCarthy’s first for Meath. McCarthy dropped over his second two minutes later and coupled with two Regan efforts, following a failed Anthony Moyles fisted point attempt when a goal seemed on, Meath bridged a 0-06 to 0-02 gap.

Hannon replied for Wicklow with a 25-metre free and despite another Meath goal chance being snuffed out by Stevie Cushe’s 28th minute block down, Giles pointed a seventh from the resultant 45. An off-balance Tommy Gill put a goal between the sides into injury time, at 0-04 to 0-07 down.

Wicklow’s bench looked far from downhearted and, having unloaded McGillicuddy, a swift 36th minute move saw Ronan Coffey find O’Gorman who in turn squared for the replacement to fist past a stunned David Gallagher in the Meath net. O’Gorman and Gill breathed further fire to the Wicklow revival but Armagh referee Jimmy McKee saw fit to send the reckless Clancy to the line for a silly two-footed lunge on 44 minutes, having picked up his first caution nine minutes earlier.

The Meath juggernaut gained pace as Regan and Kelly (0-02) fired over three points in as many minutes. Regan drove a low left-footed drive to the Wicklow net on 53 minutes at 1-11 to 1-06, and substitute Donal Curtis rose the white and green flags in the subsequent minutes to put Meath almost out of sight.

The evidence of Meath’s young talent was put on show in the final minutes as Shane McKeigue and Stephen MacGabhann, both members of St Pat’s Navan’s successful 2000 All-Ireland Colleges side, pointed on 60 and 64 minutes. Gill closed out the Wicklow scoring with two late scores on 68 and 70 minutes, the second a 30-metre free, with manager Hugh Kenny dreaming of what might have been.

Meath: D Gallagher; N McKeigue, D Fay, M O'Reilly; P Reynolds, T O'Connor, S McGabhann; A Moyles, N Crawford; N Kelly, C McCarthy, T Giles; E Kelly, S McKeigue, D Regan. Subs: D Curtis for N Kelly (ht), R Kealy for N McKeigue (35 mins), J Cullinane for Moyles (51 mins), D Crimmins for E Kelly (65 mins), B Farrell for Regan (66 mins).

Wicklow: R Hollingsworth; C Hyland, S Cushe, T Burke; C Davis; S Byrne, A Foley; B Sheehan, B O'hAnnaidh; T Harney, R Coffey, A Ellis; T Gill, T Hannon, W O'Gorman. Subs: B Brady for Hyland (20 mins), C Clancy for Sheehan (28 mins), D McGillicuddy for Ellis (ht), A Nolan for Harney (53 mins), D O’hAnnaidh for Davis (62 mins).

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Filed by Barry J Whyte