All-Ireland title for minor hurlers

November 30, 2007
With the small ball code in the Royal County in desperate need of a boost, the Meath minor hurlers filled that niche with a campaign full of promise which culminated in All-Ireland MHC 'B' honours at Tullamore on the last Saturday in July. Not much was expected of Paul Reilly's troops entering the secondary competition following their swift exit from the Leinster Championship but they showed vast improvement to brush aside all obstacles put in front of them and lay down a marker for the future. Resounding victories over Kerry and Westmeath paved their passage to the All-Ireland decider where they faced a fancied Kildare side but not even the Lilywhites could call a halt to the Meath youngsters momentum and an impressive performance saw them run out comfortable, 3-19 to 1-7, winners at the final whistle. Meath's first half performance laid the foundations for victory as they led 1-9 to 0-3 with the lively Malcolm Doyle finding the net during a profitable opening period in which Michael Lynch, David Raleigh and Willie Mahady all impressed. The second half followed a similar script and Meath never looked in jeopardy of surrendering their advantage as Doyle netted for a second time and Barry Slevin, who topscored for the winners with 1-9, also raising a green flag to keep Kildare at arms length. The 18-point winning margin did not flatter Meath and with David Kennedy, Ray Massey, Doyle and Slevin in particular catching the eye throughout, they deservedly captured the silverware to the delight of all involved. Meath booked their ticket to that decider following an impressive semi-final disposal of neighbours Westmeath at Portloaise. Barry Slevin again was the main architect of the victory as he posted a personal tally of 1-5 in the 2-17 to 1-5 success. Like in previous outings, Reilly's charges left the traps at speed and found themselves 1-7 to 0-3 ahead at the interval but it was after the resumption were they displayed a ruthless side to their game and outscored their opponents 1-10 to 0-2 with David Farrell, David Raleigh and Phillip Garvey standing out in a fine team display. The Westmeath victory carried on from the good form which Meath had shown in their last eight clash with Kerry, showing no ill effects of the long journey to Tralee as they eventually defeated the hosts 1-17 to 3-5. Michael O'Grady grabbed the all important goal for the Royal youngsters while Barry Slevin again displayed his predatory instincts in front of goal by registering eight points. The six-point win seemed to give Meath the confidence they needed to progress in the competition and the victories which followed over Westmeath and Kildare showed that there is underage talent being unearthed in Meath. Before the successful 'B' campaign, the young Royals competed in the Leinster Blue Riband minor competition. Although expectations failed to raise above the 'hopeful' entering the Leinster Championship first round clash with neighbours Westmeath, the trip to Cusack Park proved to be a fruitful experience as Paul Reilly's troops left Mullingar with a merited ticket to the second round in their back pockets. The scoreboard at the final whistle read 2-19 to 0-12 in favour of the visitors and the thirteen point victory was a fair reflection of the gulf between the sides as Meath turned in a highly impressive hour's work, generating new found hope that a prosperous campaign may be in the offing. Reilly's men took little time to settle and any early nerves soon elapsed when Michael O'Grady was put through on goal by Michael Lynch in the seventh minute and the Dunboyne clubman rattled the back of the net with a rasping drive to hand Meath an early stranglehold on the tie. Westmeath failed to land a telling blow in the opening period and their counterparts revelled in their malfunction as a trio of David Raleigh points accompanied by similar efforts from Michael Dunne and O'Grady saw Meath quickly establish a healthy advantage. Phillip Garvey, Barry Slevin and Ray Massey closed out the half with scores to further increase the damage and a 1-12 to 0-5 lead at the break mirrored the first half's action. Although Westmeath did supply more resistance after the resumption, they were still unable to contain a Meath side that displayed a swagger and style not usually associated with underage hurling sides in the county. Points from Alan Watters, Thomas Kane and a few more fine efforts from Slevin had Meath well and truly out of sight of their opponents before a late David Kennedy goal added a mat finish to the scoreline. Eight clubs were represented among the panel of 24 but a slightly surprising feature of that make-up was that not a single player from the clubs in the three main towns of Navan, Trim or Kells were involved. Instead it was Kilmessan, Dunboyne, Killyon and Kiltale that supplied the majority of the players to suggest that Meath hurling will continue to be dominated by similar rural clubs for the foreseeable future. Having impressed many astute judges in the win over Westmeath, people could be forgiven for thinking that the young guns could continue their provincial run with the visit of Carlow to Kilmessan on the first Saturday in May. However such thoughts took little time to evaporate at Kilmessan as Meath stumbled from the traps and failed to raise any sort of a gallop and with their Carlow counterparts in no mood to let them off the hook, they were easily annexed 1-4 to 2-15. With Carlow showing vast improvement in the grade the previous year, losing out to Kilkenny in the Leinster decider, they may have been expected to come out on top but the manner in which they demolished their opponents with such authority was hugely disappointing from a Meath viewpoint. The hosts failed to take advantage of a distinct wind advantage in the opening half hour and their only return came from Dunne and Slevin frees as Meath failed to register a point from play. In truth, Carlow weren't much better and both sides had more wides than scores but Eddie Byrne's third minute goal was the difference between the sides at the break as the visitors led 1-2 to 0-2. With neither side managing to raise the bar above the mediocre before the break, it was Carlow who shifted through the gears on the restart and a nine minute spell that yielded 1-9 saw them create an unassailable 2-13 to 0-4 lead entering the final quarter. Meath did find the net in the closing stages through David Kennedy but that score was of consolation value only as the bird had well and truly flown and Carlow were marching onto the next round. It was a disappointing conclusion to the Leinster Championship but the crop of players that were involved more than redeemed themselves by capturing the All-Ireland B title following a string of impressive performances. The Meath team that annexed All-Ireland MHC 'B' honours at the expense of Kildare at Tullamore in July was as follows - C. Kane; D. Farrell, M. Dunne, G. Murphy; A. Watters, M. Lynch (0-2), T.J. Lynch; W. Mahady (0-1), R. Massey; P. Garvey (0-1), D. Raleigh (0-2); B. Quinn; M. Doyle (2-4), D. Kennedy, B. Slevin (1-9). Subs - M. O'Grady for Quinn, A. Feeney for Watters, D. Carty for Kennedy, B. Reilly for Farrell.

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