Derry hurlers snatch victory from jaws of defeat against Meath
All Ireland Under 21B Championship semi-final: Derry 3-16 Meath 3-14
A dramatic injury-time finish saw Derry snatch victory from the jaws of defeat over Meath at Trim.
Trailing 3-14 to 3-12 after the hour, the Oakleafers reeled off the last four points of the game to win by two and progress to this year’s All Ireland Under 21B final.
Richie Mullan top scored for the winners, hitting 1-7, with the Kevin Lynch’s man finding ample support from Slaughtneil’s Brian Cassidy who nailed the last two scores of the contest to confirm victory.
For the winners, and now All Ireland finalists, where they will face Kerry, this was a game of two distinct halves.
The dry hard surface in Trim, the grass more Iberian yellow than Irish green, seemed to suit the travelling Derry side.
Shane McGuigan and John Mullan carried ball out of defence time and again and the ammo they supplied to Derry’s deadly inside forward line of Richie Mullan, Brian Cassidy and Corey O’Reilly cut ribbons into the beleaguered Meath rearguard.
Indeed Collie McGurk’s men led 2-7 to 0-4 after 28 minutes, and had it not been for as many as twelve wides the Chamber’s coach in the car park would have been gearing itself up for an early return north.
“I thought we were going to shoot ourselves out of it in the first half. I think we had twelve wides and were shooting from angles we shouldn’t have been shooting from,” explained manager Collie McGurk.
“We controlled the first half. Shane McGuigan had a powerful game there. But even in the second half I was so proud of the players for the way they battled when it was going the other way and the game was gone for us.
“They hung in and they hung in and got us over the line.”
Daithi McGowan’s goal, punishing a defensive howler from Derry, was the last action of the first half but it was very much the visitor’s opening 30 minutes.
Goals from Brian Cassidy in the 10th minute and Richie Mullan soon after, backboned a powerful opening half from the Oakleafers who led 2-7 to 1-5 at the break.
The second half saw Meath gradually reeled Derry in. Impact sub Cian Rodgers was the catalyst for the Royals revival, banging home their second goal in the 31st minute.
And when Mickey Mullen scored a third straight after, it gave the home side the lead for the first time in the match at 3-6 to 2-8 in the 36th minute and the momentum very much in the home side’s favour.
Derry recovered through the free taking accuracy of Richie Mullan’s frees and a Darragh Cartin goal, and with five to go the teams were level at 3-12 apiece.
A Jarlath Ennis point appeared to give Meath the upper hand in the home straight, but huge points from Slaughtneil men Shane McGuigan and a Brian Cassidy brace brought late, late joy for the Oakleafers.
“We blew ourselves out a wee bit in the first half and Meath came on strong with three quick goals,” said McGurk. “The game seemed to be going away from us.
“But the fellas showed mighty character. The subs that came on did very well for us and gave us that wee bit of edge when we needed it most.
“And then at the end Brian Cassidy stepped up and pinged two scores there. It was a great win to get, and probably a better way to get into a final than cantering into it.”
In the other semi-final, Kerry had too much firepower for Sligo 0-8 at Ballinasloe, running out 4-26 to 0-8 winners.
Derry: D Quinn, N Smith, C Kelly, E Gilmore, J Mullan, S McGuigan (0-1), R McCartney, C McAllister, S Cassidy, D Cartin (1-1), E O’Kane, P Burke, R Mullan (1-7, 0-6 frees), B Cassidy (1-4, 0-2 frees), C O’Reilly (0-3)
Subs: L Cassidy for P Burke (38), T Magee for N Smith (50), O McKeever for C O’Reilly (58)
Yellow cards: T Magee (52)
Meath: A Dunne, I Hughes, C Wall, A Feeney, S McCann, R Ryan (0-1), S Coffey, P Slevin, P Lally, B Dowling (0-2), D McGowan (1-0), J Ennis (0-3), S Gibbons, C Fitzpatrick (0-1), C Gorman (0-1)
Subs: H Smith for C Wall (14), C Rodgers (1-5, 0-4 frees), for C Gorman (25), M Mullen (1-1) for S Gibbons (HT), J Leavy for A Feeney (44)
Yellow cards: A Feeney (13), S McCann (17), C Rodgers (49)
Referee: G McGrath (Wexford)