By Mark Jones
Derry 1-12, Meath 1-12
It was the result that both counties dreaded. Last Sunday’s drawn National Football League final at Croke Park means that both Derry and Meath are now facing into a fixtures logjam as the All-Ireland Championship gets under way.
Derry appear to be worst hit. A difficult Ulster championship game against Cavan on Sunday and then the League final replay a week from Saturday — three major matches in the space of 13 days wasn’t soothing manager Eamon Coleman’s brow. "We’re going to be one tired team and it’s only May," he muttered.
Still, for all the pressures on both teams, they only had themselves to blame for what was largely a bloodless contest. Conservative and cagey, the football was pedestrian stuff on a beautiful sunny afternoon. Once again it was Meath who clung on the face of adversity and Trevor Giles swung over the equalizing point in injury time.
By that stage, Meath had been reduced to 14 men following Graham Geraghty’s sending off for a rash challenge on Kieran McKeever. It was the flashpoint in a game when tempers rose on several occasions and Geraghty’s dismissal provoked some mindless supporters to pepper referee Michael Curley with missiles after the final whistle.
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Thankfully, the stupidity only lasted a few seconds. However, Geraghty is bound to be out of action for a few weeks and will definitely miss the replay. His customary understanding with Ollie Murphy and Giles was not in evidence as Meath managed to show only one or two glimpses of their best form, but Derry failed to capitalize.
They had enough chances during the first half to be more than a point clear (1-6 to 1-5) at the interval, but a succession of wides cost them dear. There was one inspirational moment from the outstanding Anthony Tohill, who started a move and then finished it with a superb goal on the run.
Tohill, and to a lesser extent Dermot Heaney, controlled midfield, where John McDermott struggled to make an impact. Ronan Rocks was inventive in the half forward line and Henry Downey exuded authority in defense. Yet it was barely a minute after Tohill’s brilliant strike that Meath were able to reply in kind.
This time the Derry rearguard was caught napping as Murphy took advantage of a Gary Coleman fumble to slide his shot past Eoin McCloskey. Evan Kelly added a point and suddenly Meath were level.
Throughout the second half, there was never more than a point between the teams, but still there was little in terms of spectacle to enthrall a crowd of nearly 26,000. More fouls, more sloppy shooting and plenty of negative football.
"We played to about three quarters of our potential out there," Eamon Coleman said. "The good points were that we battled and worked for each other."
As for Meath’s Sean Boylan, he was pleased with the way his players coped after Geraghty’s dismissal.
"I actually don’t think he deserved to be sent off, I don’t feel he intended to catch Kieran, but it made the lads work harder and during the period we were a player short we outscored Derry by two points to one," he said.
Giles had been well policed by Derry and he was never able to exert the sort of influence that had unhinged Kerry in the semifinal, but with the Ulster side a point in front going into injury time, Nigel Nestor was fouled and Giles hit the target form an acute angle.
Louth 1-13, Offaly 0-13
If there was a muted finale to the main event at Croke Park, the Division Two decider generated the rare sight of a Louth team celebrating at GAA headquarters. A deserved victory over Offaly was Louth’s most significant football success since winning the All-Ireland itself 43 years ago.
With his team already assured of promotion to Division One, manager Paddy Clarke was jubilant following his players’ efforts in landing the second division title outright. "It’s a massive boost to our confidence and to our morale, and I accept that winning meant more to us than to Offaly because they’ve enjoyed success in recent years, but it still doesn’t lessen our satisfaction in any way," Clarke said.
Trailing by four points in the second half, Louth stormed back into the contest and when wingback Simon Gerard popped up for the all important goal with 10 minutes left, a surprise result was on the cards.
While the League was still holding center stage, the Leinster football championship got under way with the first series of round-robin games involving Wicklow, Carlow, Wexford and Longford. Most eyebrows were raised at New Ross, where battling Wexford got the better of Longford by 3-9 to 0-12.
It was revenge of sorts as Longford had knocked Wexford out of the previous two championships, but this time two goals by John Hegarty and one from Jason Lawlor paved the way for an unexpected success.
Wexford were even able to recover after Mattie Forde’s sending off just three minutes into the second half and their 14 men always seemed to have the edge especially at midfield, where Jack Berry and Thomas Howlin were outstanding.
Wicklow also made a winning start to the new round-robin program with a 1-8 to 0-7 success over Carlow at Aughrim. However, the football served up failed to match the occasion. Wicklow themselves were far from top form, while Carlow, despite dominating for long periods, ended up shooting a miserable 17 wides.
Carlow also lost sub Anthony Kavanagh, who was sent off midway through the second half, but the damage had been done earlier when Trevor Doyle found himself on the end of Kevin O’Brien’s quick free and drove home the game’s only goal.
The Leinster hurling championship got under way with its series of round robin games and Laois had the most to celebrate following their 3-18 to 2-8 victory over Westmeath in Mullingar. It was the Midlands county’s first championship success in 11 years and goals by Niall Rigney, Fionan O’Sullivan and James Young sealed the verdict.
Carlow, meanwhile, almost pulled off a shock victory over Dublin at Dr. Cullen Park, but in the end it was the Dubs who prevailed by the narrowest of margins, 1-16 to 2-12. Carlow grew in confidence after an early goal from Michael Ryan, and although at one stage Dublin’s lead was five points, the home team struck again with a John Byrne goal to set up a tense finale.