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Christy Ring Cup Final: Meath hold off late Derry rally

Meath players celebrate with the trophy after their side's victory in the Christy Ring Cup Final match between Derry and Meath at Croke Park.

Meath players celebrate with the trophy after their side's victory in the Christy Ring Cup Final match between Derry and Meath at Croke Park.

Christy Ring Cup Final

Meath 1-23 Derry 1-21

By Kevin Egan at Croke Park

For 45 minutes of this Christy Ring Cup final, Meath were completely dominant, looking like a team that was more than ready to bounce straight back up to Joe McDonagh Cup hurling at the first attempt. They had completely shut down a lively Derry attack, they were picking off scores from a variety of different sources, and their movement of the ball through the lines was utterly exceptional.

Yet throughout this campaign, Seoirse Bulfin’s charges have been guilty of playing well in patches, and certainly doing enough to win, but not hurling consistently over 70 minutes. That failing almost caught them out this evening at Croke Park, as they allowed Derry to come back from 13 points down to draw within a single point, before James Regan’s 14th score of the day raised the last flag of the night.

It was a vital score too, more so than a typical “insurance point”.

Derry still had a minute to play, and with their last attack, they won a free on the edge of the ‘D’, which under normal circumstances, would have been a simple tap over point for Cormac O’Doherty. Had that gone over, it would have been extra time, and with the momentum that Derry had at that stage, few would have bet against them kicking on to win their first ever Christy Ring title.

Instead O’Doherty had to float the ball into the danger area, and once the ball was batted away, Kevin Jordan’s final whistle confirmed a league and championship double for the Royals.

Their supporters will wonder how they possibly let it come to that, as even allowing for the breeze, they had more than enough done in the opening 45 minutes to cruise through the final third. Éamon Ó Donnchadha was sensational in the opening exchanges, picking off three points from play, including one stunning strike from the Cusack Stand sideline, as they exploded out of the blocks to lead by 0-7 to 0-0 after ten minutes.

Derry finally got off the mark through an excellent Seán Kelly catch and strike two minutes later, though the Dungiven man was injured as he did so, and it wasn’t until the fifth minute of the second half that the Oak Leaf men added a second point from play.

James Regan did the bulk of the scoring for Meath, but they used the breeze well and picked off some nice scores from distance, including points for midfielders Pa Ryan and Martin Healy, as well as a fine strike from Simon Ennis.

Cormac O’Doherty kept Derry partially in the game with frees, but the half-time score of 0-17 to 0-7 was a fair reflection of play up to that point, and once Nicky Potterton sprinted through the Derry defence and wrong-footed Oisín O’Doherty in the Derry goal two minutes into the second-half, it looked like plain sailing from there.

The contest briefly descended into a shootout between Regan and O’Doherty, which suited Meath just fine, as they took their largest lead at 1-20 to 0-10. That didn’t last long as O’Doherty nailed two frees from long distance in the space of just 60 seconds, but even then, the contest meandered until a decisive moment at the start of the fourth quarter ignited a huge surge.

A close-range free saw O’Doherty go for goal and fire the sliotar underneath the covering defenders, and from that moment on, Derry found some confidence and ambition, and they quickly started to cause Meath a lot of problems.

Corey O’Reilly was hugely involved at centre forward, John Mullan led the line well, and going into the last ten minutes, the lead was down to four points. Ségdae Melaugh and Pádhraig Nelis also scored off the bench as their attack now had a lot more punch, even after Seán Cassidy was sent off following a second card with 65 minutes gone.

Four points in a row set up a grandstand finish, but crowning that run with the score they needed to draw level just eluded Derry, and Regan’s final play – winning a free and striking the ball cleanly between the posts from 50 metres out – proved decisive.

SCORERS FOR MEATH: James Regan 0-14 (0-11f), Nicky Potterton 1-1, Éamon Ó Donnchadha 0-3, Martin Healy 0-1, Pa Ryan 0-1, Simon Ennis 0-1, James Kelly 0-1, Seanie Geraghty 0-1.

SCORERS FOR DERRY: Cormac O’Doherty 1-14 (1-14f), John Mullan 0-2, Corey O’Reilly 0-2, Seán Kelly 0-1, Pádhraig Nelis 0-1, Ségdae Melaugh 0-1.

MEATH: Charlie Ennis; Seán Geraghty, Shane Brennan, Brendan McKeon; Simon Ennis, Martin Healy, Niall McLarnon; Pa Ryan, Michael Burke; James Toher, James Kelly, Éamon Ó Donnachadha, Stephen Morris, Jack Regan, Nicky Potterton.

SUBS: Gerard Dwane for Geraghty (blood 9-21), Adam Gannon for Morris (half-time), Pádraig O’Hanrahan for Ryan (52), Dwane for Brennan (52), Mark O’Sullivan for Kelly (64), James Murray for Ó Donnchadha (67).

DERRY: Oisín O’Doherty; Paddy Kelly, Mark Craig, Seán Francis Quinn; Seán Cassidy, Richie Mullan, James Friel; Cormac O’Doherty, Meehaul McGrath; Eamon Conway, Corey O’Reilly, Darragh McGilligan; Paul Cleary, John Mullan, Seán Kelly.

SUBS: Ségdae Melaugh for Kelly (13), Eoghan Cassidy for Conway (32) Pádhraig Nelis for Cleary (48), Callum O’Kane for McGilligan (60).

REF: Kevin Jordan (Tipperary)