July 18th, 2021

On a fine summer’s afternoon, at approximately 5pm, we pulled up into the Louth GAA Centre of Excellence to witness another encounter between Down and Meath, a year on in the Peader Ó Liathán U17 Cup.   As the car pulled to a stop, you wouldn’t have been all that surprised if you’d heard the GPS say “You’ve reached your destination, Costa Del Louth”.  The temperature was a sizzling 31 degrees.  On opening the car door you felt the rush of hot air on your face, reminiscent of your first breath of air as the airplane cabin door opens out on a Spanish runway.  But we weren’t here on holiday. It was the serious business of supporting your team; to haul them over the line when the going gets tough. And boy was it tough.  By the time the lads had gone through their pre-match routine, the temperature had plummeted to a cool 29 degrees at the 6pm throw-in. Summer was having a laugh.

The games refereeing official, Kevin Brady called the teams to order and we stood for a minutes silence to show our respect for the Monaghan U20 Captain, Brendan Og Duffy, who died tragically in a car crash at the weekend.

With an instruction to keep the water flowing under the circumstances from the referee, the sliotar was rolled in and it was game on.

Down played into the dropping sun and despite a gentle breeze blowing slightly to their advantage, they were not able to utilise this and long puck outs from goalkeeper Pearse Smyth fell hard and fast across the sun baked ground into waiting Meath players.  It was Matthew Doran that opened up Down’s account on the scoreboard and shortly followed by a response from Meath’s Craig Gilsenan.  Down walked off at the water break 0-4 to 0-3.

Both teams now traded points with scores for Down coming from opportunistic players but Down’s Fergal Gilmore gave Down their first real chance at goal after lobbing in a dangerous ball that swirled around the Meath box like a dust devil before Down’s Bryan Rice squeezed out a point.  Down’s keeper continued to explore the slender advantage of the breeze that had shifted slightly and now coming from behind his net and dropped a long ball into the possession of Bryan Rice again but despite Rice finding the back of the net, the referee blew him up for a long hold before his delivery.  This was in direct comparison to Meath’s consistent approach from their numbers 12 Conor Quinn and 13 Sean Lynch, allowing Meath to accumulate a further 6 points compared to Down’s 3 points going into the half time break, Down 0-7 Meath 0-9.

As the second half ticked away, Meath ran up another three points before starting to rotate on fresh legs as  the searing heat was beginning to bite.  That triggered a similar bout of rotations from Down but unlike Meath, Down were to reap rewards from the timely appearances from Odhran Birt and substitute Callum O’Neill. Meath managed another three points from Lynch, Ennis and Gilsenan as Down’s Birt and O’Neill made their presence known by nudging Down up to within 3 points of Meath.  A foul on Jude Roddy on the edge of the 21 now 3 minutes into extra time gave Down a slender ray of hope.  With a wall of Meath bodies along the line, Pearse Smyth ran the full length of the pitch to slot the sliotar low and hard to the back of the net.  The supporting crowd on the North bank went wild.

Meath hurried out the puck and despite taking what looked like secure possession, dropped the sliotar, which was scooped up by Michael Dorrian.  In a rerun from moments ago, Dorrian was fouled in almost the same spot. Callum O’Neill stepped up and slotted the sliotar over the bar and the Down crowd nervously cheered in anticipation of what could happen but that was not to be as Kevin Brady drew a line under the match with the final whistle.  The crowd on the North bank were now ecstatic.

Meath will be disappointed with the end result.  They could never have imagined this would be a spectre of last year’s Peader Ó Liatháin Cup final, where Down won 1-14 to 0-15 and Francis Caldwell’s one handed wonder goal secured the game. It would be a close comparison to suggest that Smyth’s wonder free brought the game back level so that Callum O’Neill could finish the job. But you just can’t leave it like that.  This was a free to take Down into the final and O’Neill was taking on a role that surely must have been a nerve jangling, dry mouth moment. But the lad was the man for the job.  And now we can leave it like that.

Commiserations to Meath. Well done to the entire Down panel, team management and no doubt a great experience to bring back to the Club from Eoin, Adam and Rory.

Ballycran is delighted to share these pictures and happy to forward anything that you feel might be useful in helping to promote the fastest field sport in the world.

Down v Meath (PÓL – 1)

Down v Meath (PÓL – 2)

Peter (Growler) McGrattan says how it’s going to be   Down v Meath (PÓL – 3)

Sean Óg and Peter complete on the paperwork   Down v Meath (PÓL – 4)

Meath on the one minute silence  Down v Meath (PÓL – 5)

Down on the one minute silence  Down v Meath (PÓL – 6)

Down Captain Pearce Smyth, Referee Kevin Brady and Meath Captain Paddy Barnwell   Down v Meath (PÓL – 7)

Down v Meath (PÓL – 8)

Down v Meath (PÓL – 9)

Down v Meath (PÓL – 10)

Down v Meath (PÓL – 11)

Down v Meath (PÓL – 12)

Down v Meath (PÓL – 13)

Down v Meath (PÓL – 14)

Down supporters enjoy the evening game   Down v Meath (PÓL – 15)

Down v Meath (PÓL – 16)

Down v Meath (PÓL – 17)

Down v Meath (PÓL – 18)

Down v Meath (PÓL – 19)

Down v Meath (PÓL – 20)

Down v Meath (PÓL – 21)

Down v Meath (PÓL – 22)

Down v Meath (PÓL – 23)

Down v Meath (PÓL – 24)

Down v Meath (PÓL – 25)

Down v Meath (PÓL – 26)

Down v Meath (PÓL – 27)

Down v Meath (PÓL – 28)

Down v Meath (PÓL – 29)

Down v Meath (PÓL – 30)

Down v Meath (PÓL – 31)

Down v Meath (PÓL – 32)

Down v Meath (PÓL – 33)

Down v Meath (PÓL – 34)

Down v Meath (PÓL – 35)

A much needed water break  Down v Meath (PÓL – 36)

The Magee family and friends on tour Down v Meath (PÓL – 37)

Down v Meath (PÓL – 38)

Down v Meath (PÓL – 39)

Down v Meath (PÓL – 40)

Down v Meath (PÓL – 41)

Down v Meath (PÓL – 42)

Down v Meath (PÓL – 43)

Down v Meath (PÓL – 44)

Down v Meath (PÓL – 45)

Pearce Smyth slots the sliotar in low and right   Down v Meath (PÓL – 46)

‘The man for the job’   Down v Meath (PÓL – 47)

Exhausted and disappointed    Down v Meath (PÓL – 48)

Down v Meath (PÓL – 49)

In appreciation of the supporters that hauled them over the line   Down v Meath (PÓL – 50)

Semi finalists Down U17  Down v Meath (PÓL – 51)

Happy supporters  Down v Meath (PÓL – 52)

Job done Paudie  Down v Meath (PÓL – 53)

Thank you to Meath for your bravery and fair engagement. It was a great game to watch and you gave Down a run for your money.  Well done to the Down hurlers. Let’s see if we can close the gap on Antrim for the final on Wednesday, venue TBC and dare we dream of a back to back?