MEATH 4-13 WICKLOW 1-12
By Paul Keane at Pairc Tailteann, Navan
Jack O’Connor struck what will surely go down as the fastest goal of this year’s Championship as Meath got off to a strong start, securing their place in this evening’s Leinster semi-final draw with relative ease.
Curraha man O’Connor strode through and netted just nine seconds into this quarter-final win in Navan after the hosts won the throw-in, a strike that stunned visiting Wicklow and left them with a mountain to climb.
James McEntee added a second Meath goal after six minutes but it wasn’t until the second-half when substitutes Mathew Costello and Jack Flynn also netted for Andy McEntee’s side that they could finally breathe out.
There was a fifth goal in the contest too, scored by Wicklow’s Oisin McGraynor at the death to offer some consolation.
The Division 4 outfit will head now to the inaugural Tailteann Cup and will carry vital momentum with them after beating Laois in Round 1 and giving Meath plenty to think about.
Meath probably had a plan in place for just about every possibility in this Championship opener – apart from scoring a goal inside 10 seconds.
Dean Rock may have hit the net for Dublin after 13 seconds of the 2020 All-Ireland final but O’Connor went even better by registering his major just nine seconds into this contest.
Bryan Menton won the ball from referee Paul Faloon’s throw-in and fed midfield partner Ronan Jones who picked out the onrushing O’Connor for a well worked solo goal, sliding the ball low past stunned goalkeeper Mark Jackson.
Padraig O’Toole and Kevin Quinn responded with Wicklow points before the visitors were suckered by another Meath goal, this time from McEntee.
Wicklow were surely fuming about the concession as Menton’s initial point attempt was a poor one and dropped short but McEntee was quickest to intervene, beating Jackson in an aerial battle and directing the ball to the net.
With just six minutes on the clock and two goals already scored, Meath supporters in the estimated 5,000 crowd must have been thinking about a possible goalfest similar to the 2020 provincial clash in Aughrim when the Royals chalked up 7-14.
What actually occurred was that the teams went toe to toe from there on until half-time, splitting 10 points equally between them to leave Meath 2-5 to 0-7 ahead at the interval.
Jackson strode forward to convert two placed balls for Wicklow, one of those a 26th minute ’45 after Meath defender Robin Clarke had cleared a dangerous ball off his own goalline.
Jordan Morris, who scored 3-4 on his Championship debut in that 2020 game, opened his account with a converted free for Meath in the 29th minute but O’Connor, Meath’s new free-taker from the left side of the field, wasted two great opportunities.
It was all a little underwhelming from Meath’s perspective but they were better after the restart and went a long way towards killing the contest with a series of third quarter scores.
In the 10 minutes after half-time, Meath outscored Wicklow by 1-3 to 0-1 with Costello’s 45th minute goal a beauty, the Dunshaughlin man playing a clever one-two with Jason Scully before slipping the ball to the net.
That left 10 points between the teams and the gap was out to 13 late on following Flynn’s goal after a sumptuous ball in from Morris before McGraynor beat Meath ‘keeper Harry Hogan in the air in stoppage time to palm in Wicklow’s only goal.
Meath scorers: Jack O’Connor 1-3 (0-2f), Bryan Menton 0-4, Jordan Morris 0-4 (0-2f), James McEntee 1-0, Mathew Costello 1-0, J Flynn 1-0, Thomas O’Reilly 0-2.
Wicklow scorers: Eoin Darcy 0-4 (0-4f), Mark Jackson 0-4 (0-3f, 0-1 45), Oisin McGraynor 1-0, Padraig O’Toole 0-2, Kevin Quinn 0-1, Rory Stokes 0-1.
MEATH: Harry Hogan; Robin Clarke, Conor McGill, Eoin Harkin; James McEntee, Donal Keogan, Cathal Hickey; Bryan Menton, Ronan Jones; Jason Scully, Thomas O’Reilly, Jack O’Connor; Jordan Morris, Cillian O’Sullivan, Joey Wallace.
Subs: Ronan Ryan for Hickey h/t, Mathew Costello for Wallace 38, Jack Flynn for Jones 60, Shane Walsh for Scully 62, Jordan Muldoon for Harkin 64.
WICKLOW: Mark Jackson; Malachy Stone, Patrick O’Keane, Tom Moran; Nicky Devereaux, Andy Maher, Zach Cullen; Padraig O’Toole, JP Hurley; Rory Stokes, Dean Healy, Darragh Fitzgerald; Mark Kenny, Kevin Quinn, Eoin Darcy.
Subs: Oisin McGraynor for Hurley 47, Oisin Cullen for Stokes 53, Arran Murphy for Devereaux 64, Jack Kirwan for Darcy 68, Matthew Traynor for O’Toole 72.
Referee: Paul Faloon (Down).