Meath retain their status in the Joe McDonagh Cup
JOE MCDONAGH CUP RELEGATION PLAY-OFF
By Daire Walsh
Meath produced a powerful second half performance against Kildare at Parnell Park on Saturday evening to preserve their Joe McDonagh Cup status for 2022.
Two points adrift at the interval (1-11 to 0-12), Nick Weir’s side knocked over nine unanswered scores in the space of 20 minutes to completely turn the game on its head. Any prospect of a Lilywhites comeback was effectively eliminated when full-forward Jack Sheridan was red-carded for an off-the-ball incident on the hour mark.
The Royals subsequently pushed forward in the remaining minutes and can now look forward to a third successive campaign in the second-tier hurling championship. Always a reliable source for scores, centre-forward Jack Regan registered a remarkable 0-17 during the course of the contest.
Substitute Eamon O’Donnchadha also chipped in with 0-3, while Stephen Morris, James Toher and Mark O’Sullivan bagged a brace of points apiece.
Having pushed Carlow and eventual Joe McDonagh champions Westmeath so close in the group stages of the competition, losing out to their provincial rivals in this relegation play-off will come as a crushing disappointment to Kildare. They may have tasted success in Division 2B of the National Hurling League - and secured the Christy Ring Cup crown at GAA HQ in November 2020 - but Lilies boss David Herity would have hoped to keep his side at this grade to aid the future progression of hurling within the county.
Prior to his sending off, Sheridan had established himself as scorer-in-chief for Kildare with an impressive haul of 1-5. Brian Byrne, wing-back Jack Travers and Paul Divilly also shone brightly in the early exchanges, but despite finding themselves six points clear at a couple of junctures in the first half, Kildare were comfortably second best to Meath on the resumption.
To provide a snapshot of how the Royals managed to rein in the challenge of Kildare, from the 27th minute onwards, they outscored their opponents 0-20 to 0-5. Given how much was at stake in the Dublin venue, it was a truly remarkable display of attacking efficiency from the Meath men.
It wasn’t readily evident in the opening moments that the Royals were going to be the dominant force, with Sheridan and Johnny Byrne finding the target either side of an Adam Gannon point. Brian Byrne converted a ’65’ for Kildare, before Meath responded with a mini scoring blitz.
Supplementing a 0-2 salvo from Regan, David Reilly split the uprights to squeeze the 2019 Christy Ring Cup champions into the ascendancy. Kildare were beginning to make headway in the opposition half, though, and 1-4 without reply propelled them into the driving seat.
After Paul Divilly levelled matters, Travers and Sheridan added well-worked points. One of seven Naas players in the Kildare starting line-up, Sheridan flicked home at the end of a 12th-minute goalmouth scramble for what proved to be the only major of the contest.
He went on to bolster his personal tally off a close-range free and while Regan pointed from inside his own half to reduce the Meath deficit to five (1-7 to 0-5) in time for the first half water break, Kildare remained on top.
A Brian Byrne effort was sandwiched in between another brace from the unerring Regan, in advance of traded scores between the Meath marksman and his counterpart Sheridan. A succession of frees at either end briefly disrupted the rhythm of the game, but Divilly’s second from play on the left-wing quickly changed that.
1-10 to 0-8 to the good approaching the half-hour, Kildare appeared to be on the right track for the victory they craved. Yet Meath were growing in confidence and four points on the bounce by the magnificent Regan - including his first from open play - brought them firmly back into contention.
Travers’ second score of the day did offer Kildare a 1-11 to 0-12 interval buffer, but it was Meath who carried momentum into the restart.
Within six minutes, Meath had taken the lead for just the third time with successive points from Regan, Morris and O’Donnchadha. The scoring burden was slowly being lifted off Regan’s shoulders and Toher joined midfield partner Morris in raising a white flag.
O’Donnchadha was making a telling impact and his 48th-minute single gave Meath a four-point cushion. Regan maintained a potent threat on the ’40’ and after shooting a fine score on the turn, he supplied another dead-ball special to create further daylight between the teams.
Brother to Leinster rugby scrum-half Hugh and Meath footballer Cillian - who will be facing Dublin at Croke Park on Sunday - Mark O’Sullivan fired over a point on the right-wing to give Meath a 0-21 to 1-11 advantage with just 15 minutes of normal time left to play.
Kildare finally woke from their slumber to grab three points of their own courtesy of Sheridan, Conor Dowling and Gerry Keegan. While this may have led to an exciting conclusion on another day, the dismissal of Sheridan left them severely hamstrung.
In the final 14 minutes of the tie (including six minutes of stoppage-time), the only score they could muster was a point by substitute Shane Ryan. By contrast, Meath once again showcased their quality with seven excellent team scores.
As an addition to three points from the simply majestic Regan, O’Donnchadha, Morris, Togher and O’Sullivan also kept the scoreboard ticking over to send the gathering Meath supporters into raptures at the final whistle.
Scorers - Meath: Jack Regan 0-17 (13f), Eamon O’Donnchadha 0-3, Stephen Morris, James Toher, Mark O’Sullivan 0-2 each, David Reilly, Adam Gannon 0-1 each. Kildare: Jack Sheridan 1-5 (0-4f), Brian Byrne (1f, 1 ’65’), Jack Travers, Paul Divilly 0-2 each, Johnny Byrne, Gerry Keegan, Shane Ryan, Conor Dowling 0-1 each.
MEATH: Charlie Ennis; Ger Murphy, Shane Whitty, Sean Geraghty; James Kelly, Darragh Kelly, Keith Keoghan; Stephen Morris, James Toher; David Reilly, Jack Regan, Mark O’Sullivan; Adam Gannon, Alan Douglas, Paddy Conneely. Subs: Pauric O’Hanrahan for Regan (17-18, blood sub), Eamon O’Donnchadha for Reilly (29), Shane Brennan for D Kelly (50), O’Hanrahan for Gannon (60), Mickey Burke for Geraghty (63).
KILDARE: Paddy McKenna; Cathal Derivan, Rían Boran, Simon Leacy; Kevin Whelan, Declan Flaherty, Jack Travers; Paul Divilly, Brian Byrne; Cathal Dowling, Johnny Byrne, James Burke; Colm Chan, Jack Sheridan, David Slattery. Subs: Gerry Keegan for Chan (31), Shane Ryan for Slattery (40), Caolan Smith for J Byrne (53), Conor Dowling for Cathal Dowling (57), Sean Christianseen for Flaherty (69).
Referee: Colum Cunning (Antrim).