In the latest in this series on the greatest matches he ever witnessed, RTÉ GAA commentator Darragh Maloney looks back at the 2008 Leinster SFC quarter-final between Meath and Wexford.
In putting together this list, I have been thinking a lot about the greatest comeback I have seen. I settled on the meeting of Meath and Wexford in the quarter-final of the Leinster Football Championship in 2008.
Wexford had been making steady progress in the province in the years before with the incredible Matty Forde at the forefront of their efforts. Forde is one of the most gifted footballers I have ever seen and that year, the stars, and his talents, aligned to bring them all the way to the All-Ireland semi-final.
It was an incredible achievement for a team who began the year in Division 3.
Meath were favourites heading to Dr Cullen Park in Carlow on 1 June 2008.
Meath had finished third from bottom in Division 2 while Wexford were unbeaten in the division below them and had beaten Fermanagh in the final. In different times, Dublin had won promotion from Division 2 but lost the final to Westmeath.
Dublin and Meath had been involved in a bruising league battle at Parnell Park a few weeks before the start of the Leinster Championship. A 29-player brawl led to 16 players receiving suspensions and eight of them were from Meath.
The bans ranged from one to two months but after their opening Leinster win over Carlow, it meant that Meath were to face Wexford without five regulars including goalkeeper Brendan Murphy, Niall McKeigue and Nigel Crawford.
That was a big disadvantage but it was not viewed as fatal. Curiously, Wexford had won the previous four meetings between the counties.
Wexford had certainly made up ground on the others in Leinster but Meath were expected to be a different proposition. It was also the first time new manager Jason Ryan would take charge of the team in a championship match.
A crowd of over 10,000 saw Meath tear into Wexford in the first half.
Even without the five regulars, Colm Coyle's team played some beautiful football with Stephen Bray, Cian Ward and Joe Sheridan running the show. Graham Geraghty (who was 31 at the time) scored a lovely goal, close to the break, to add to Bray’s earlier strike and Meath cruised into a 2-8 to 0-4 interval lead.
They were 10 points ahead of a Wexford team who looked totally lost and a long way from even putting up a decent challenge.
They did rally at the start of the second half kicking four of the next five points but then came a huge turning point as Joe Sheridan had a goal disallowed after a tussle for possession with the Wexford goalkeeper Anthony Masterson.
It was a big call and the decision was a major talking point afterwards with Colm Coyle furious with the officials. However it didn’t appear too important with close to half an hour left and Meath leading by seven. Meath kicked the next three points to put them 10 clear again with 20 minutes remaining. Game over again?
Redmond Barry scored a goal with the next play but while it was too early to be a consolation score, it didn’t feel too significant such had been the difference between the teams in the first half.
The superb Ciarán Lyng got them to within six in the 55th minute but the Meath lead was still healthy. It didn’t look so hot after P.J. Banville scored their second goal in the 59th minute and Wexford were on the cusp of something spectacular. They were only three points behind.
Then another big moment as Brian Farrell missed a 20-metre free, which would have put Meath four ahead and settled them down for the last 8 minutes of the game. Meath also had midfielder Mark Ward sent off for his second yellow card and Wexford had moved to within one point with four minutes to go.
Forde slotted a free to bring them level and then in the last minute, he kicked a stunning point from 35 metres to put Wexford in front and complete an astonishing comeback.
Forde had been kept quiet in the first half but he scored the first point of the second half and the last two to fire his team to a famous victory. Twice they were 10 points down but still managed to win the game.
Wexford went on to beat Laois in the Leinster semi-final but took a very heavy beating against Dublin in the final, losing by 3-23 to 0-09. That sort of loss would have finished many teams but not this group.
Wexford beat Down in the qualifiers and Armagh in the All-Ireland quarter-final before losing to Tyrone in the semi-final by six points. It was a remarkable summer for a team that had started the year in the third division of the league.