Leinster SFC: Meath march on
Leinster Senior Football Championship Semi-Final
MEATH 3-13 LAOIS 0-11
By Paul Keane at Croke Park
James Conlon came of age in a Meath shirt with five terrific points at Croke Park to help secure a Royal County return to the Leinster SFC final.
Andy McEntee's side, who last contested a final in 2014, earned a slightly flattering 11-point win with a strong final quarter display.
Conlon, making his first full Championship start, scored four of his five points in the first-half when the game was an even contest and added a fifth late on as Meath turned the screw to seal the win.
It was an eye-catching display from the 21-year-old St Colmcilles man who sniped a goal at Croke Park when his club lost narrowly to Westport in the 2017 AIB All-Ireland intermediate final.
There was a huge display too from joint captain Bryan Menton who struck two goals from midfield while fellow joint captain Donal Keogan won a penalty that Michael Newman converted.
The big win earns Meath a return to the final on June 23 having last competed in the decider in 2014 when they lost to Dublin.
Meath came into this contest as favourites after taking out Carlow and Offaly but were wary of their own painful history against Laois.
The reigns of both Seamus 'Banty' McEnaney and Eamonn Barry both ended with defeats to Laois, in 2012 and 2006, while Sean Boylan narrowly survived an infamous 10-point semi-final defeat to Laois in 1985 before inspiring a golden era.
Seamus Lavin opened the scoring for Meath after two minutes but they didn't score again until the 16th minute as Laois dominated the possession at the other end.
Unfortunately for Division 3 finalists Laois they couldn't turn that possession into points and struck four wides before eventually getting off the mark in the 15th minute through Evan O'Carroll.
The Crettyard man scored three first-half points but all came from frees and after booting four wides, including one from a close range free, the big attacker was hauled off after 30 minutes.
Donie Kingston replaced him and immediately showed his class by scoring a point in the 32nd minute.
Laois needed that score because after a slow start Meath grew into the game and scored a 31st minute goal through Menton that put them 1-5 to 0-5 ahead.
The lively Cillian O'Sullivan did the spade work with a clever run and lay-off to midfielder Menton who cut inside Robert Pigott and fired a low shot beyond the advancing Graham Brody.
O'Sullivan should have scored one himself earlier but blasted just wide after a thrilling solo run through the centre.
Conlon was Meath's key man in the first-half with four points between the 16th and 25th minutes as he continuously got away from Laois captain Stephen Attride to split the posts.
Meath were two points ahead approaching the interval when their second goal arrived.
Newman converted it from the penalty spot after Keogan, who created both of Meath's goals in the win over Carlow, was fouled after a great catch in the danger area.
It left Meath sitting pretty at the interval with a 2-6 to 0-7 advantage though they were worried by Laois' ability to pick holes seeming at will in their defence.
Laois got the margin back to three points early in the second-half with two more Kingston points but needed to kick on from there and were unable to do so, only adding two more points in the entire half.
The 2003 Leinster champions did create four second-half goal chances but couldn't take advantage of them as Meath pulled decisively clear.
Back to back O'Sullivan points left Meath 2-9 to 0-10 clear and there were further scores from Bryan McMahon and Conlon before Menton slammed in his second goal.
Meath were at their ease from there on with sub Graham Reilly adding a score and Keogan got the point his display deserved at the death.
Scorers for Meath: James Conlon 0-5, Michael Newman 1-1 (1-0 pen, 1f), Bryan Menton 2-0, Cillian O'Sullivan 0-2, Bryan McMahon 0-2, Graham Reilly 0-1, Seamus Lavin 0-1, Donal Keogan 0-1
Scorers for Laois: Donie Kingston 0-4 (2fs), Evan O'Carroll 0-3 (3fs), Colm Murphy 0-2, Daniel O'Reilly 0-1, Ross Munnelly 0-1.
MEATH: Andrew Colgan; Seamus Lavin, Conor McGill, Shane Gallagher; Donal Keogan, Ronan Ryan, Gavin McCoy; Bryan Menton, Adam Flanagan; Ben Brennan, Bryan McMahon, James McEntee; Cillian O'Sullivan, Michael Newman, James Conlon.
Subs: Graham Reilly for McCoy (48) Shane McEntee for Flanagan (52), Sean Tobin for Brennan (55), Thomas O'Reilly for Newman (64), Thomas McGovern for Gallagher (66), Ethan Devine for Menton (69).
LAOIS: Graham Brody; Stephen Attride, Denis Booth, Gareth Dillon; Sean O'Flynn, Robert Pigott, Patrick O'Sullivan; John O'Loughlin, Kieran Lillis; Daniel O'Reilly, Conor Boyle, Damien O'Connor; Colm Murphy, Evan O'Carroll, Paul Kingston.
Subs: Donie Kingston for O'Carroll (30), Martin Scully for Boyle (46), Trevor Collins for O'Flynn (54), Eoin Lowry for O'Reilly (58), Ross Munnelly for Damien O'Connor (58), Brendan Quigley for Lillis (64).
REFEREE: Joe McQuillan (Cavan).