Meath 2-19 Wicklow 3-12

Meath were forced to dig deep before recording a 2-19 to 3-12 win over 13-man Wicklow in a cracking Leinster SFC quarter-final at Páirc Tailteann.

Mick O’Dowd’s charges were impressive early on, and led by 2-12 to 1-07 in the 39th minute, with Graham Reilly (1-04) netting their second goal.

Meath held a seven-point lead in the 47th minute and looked like winning their first home provincial championship tie since 1995 comfortably but Wicklow had other ideas.

Two penalty goals from substitute Conor McGraynor helped cut the gap to two points with 13 minutes remaining, before Meath finished strongly.

Wicklow ended with 13 men after Garden County captain Dean Healy and their other goal-scorer Paul Cronin saw red in the closing nine minutes. 

Wicklow hadn’t beaten Meath in the Leinster Senior Football Championship since 1957, and all indications prior to this game suggested it was going to be tough on the current Garden County crew to bridge that gap.

However, Johnny Magee’s changes gave Meath a strong test and began this game in eager fashion.

Meath keeper Paddy O’Rourke was forced to pull off a save after just a minute when John McGrath sent an effort towards goal.

The sides were tied at 0-01 apiece after two and a half minutes, with Andrew Tormey and Stephen Kelly trading scores.

Defences were on top over the next four minutes, before Meath were awarded a seventh-minute penalty when Stephen Bray was brought down by Wicklow full-back Paul Cunningham.

Tormey sent the resulting spot-kick past Wicklow goalkeeper Robert Lambert, starting a strong phase from the hosts, which saw Tormey and Joe Wallace add points as they moved 1-03 to 0-01 ahead after 10 minutes.

Wicklow worked hard and following a well struck Daniel Woods point, Paul Cronin cut in for their opening goal in the 12th minute.

The Ballinteer St John’s clubman’s green flag cut the gap to the minimum, but although Tormey and Thomas Kelly traded points, Meath kicked on, moving five points clear by the 28th minute.

Niall Gaffney was shown to the line on a black card, and although it was likely that the loss of the Bray Emmets clubman would be hard for the Garden County to take, Wicklow had a trump-card up their sleeves, introducing McGraynor.

The Avondale man proved to be a thorn in Meath’s side over the remainder of the hour, with the sides equally trading six points before the interval, with McGraynor, Thomas Kelly and McGrath on target for the visitors.

Meath led by 1-11 to 1-06 at the break, with Tormey bringing his tally to 1-05 on the stroke of the half-time whistle.

McGrath fired the first score of the second half for Wicklow, but Meath bounced back with Harry Rooney and Brian McMahon combining before Reilly blasted to the net.

McGraynor slotted home his first penalty goal, after he was fouled himself to ensure a five-point deficit in the 44th minute.

Meath kept on top, with a Reilly point handing them a 2-16 to 2-10 lead entering the final quarter.

Wicklow weren’t lying down though, and although McGraynor mis-hit his side's second penalty, he was allowed to retake it, and this time made no mistake, to cut the gap to three points after 56 minutes.

Kelly’s third point arrived a minute later to make it two, but Meath’s experience told in the closing stages.

A brace of Tormey pointed frees, and a 45 from the Donaghmore-Ashbourne clubman extended the Royals lead to five points after 64 minutes.

Paul Cronin saw red at this stage, while Dean Healy was dismissed with four minutes of normal time remaining.

A Paul McLoughlin point ensured Wicklow were just four points in arrears with 90 seconds left, but time ran out on the visitors, as Meath secured a last-four date at Croke Park.

MEATH: P O’Rourke; J McEntee, B Power, D Tobin; N Judge, D Keogan, D Dalton; H Rooney, A Flanagan; A Tormey (1-09, 7f, 1-0pen, 1 45), P Harnan, G Reilly (1-04); J Wallace (0-01), S Bray (0-01), B McMahon (0-03).

Subs: M Burke for Judge (HT); B Menton for Flanagan (47); E Wallace for J Wallace (50); C McHugh for O’Rourke (BC 54); K Reilly for Dalton (57); S Tobin for Power (65).

WICKLOW: R Lambert; C Hyland, P Cunningham, A Murphy; D Healy, P McLoughlin (0-01), M Kenny; A McLoughlin, D Woods (0-01); D Hayden (0-02), S Kelly (0-01), N Gaffney; P Cronin (1-00), T Kelly (0-03), J McGrath (0-03, 3f).

Subs: C McGraynor (2-01, 2-00pen) for Gaffney (BC 28); R O’Brien for Cunningham (41); J Stafford for Woods (43); P Dalton for A McLoughlin (48); B McCrea for McGrath (66); P Higgins for Kenny (69).

REFEREE: Barry Cassidy (Derry)