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Ennis nails a Royal replay

RELIEF was the buzz word filtering through a dank Páirc Tailteann after the Meath SFC final finished in a relatively low-scoring deadlock yesterday.

Summerhill boss Declan McCabe was clearly relieved that his side had chiselled out an injury-time equaliser to make it 0-10 apiece, having failed to justify their pre-match billing as 4/7 favourites.

For Dunshaughlin, meanwhile, this may have been one that got away but it could have been infinitely worse: Summerhill centre-back Richie Hatton had a last-second chance to claim the Keegan Cup but saw his pressurised shot trail wide.

Game over; see you again at the same Navan venue on Sunday week.

By then, hopefully both teams will have shed some inhibitions for this was no classic of the county-final genre.

Slippery underfoot conditions scarcely helped the flow, but it was only in the last-quarter that intensity levels soared into the red zone, as both protagonists sensed victory within tantalising grasp.

After falling two points adrift, and seeing a double goal chance yield nothing, Summerhill looked in trouble until a hat-trick of sweet strikes from distance -- two Brian Ennis frees sandwiching a Conor Gillespie monster -- propelled them back ahead.

Back came Dunshaughlin with a brace of their own, via the workaholic Conor Deveraux and free-taker Trevor Dowd.

Unwitting

But as the game edged into stoppage time, the unwitting intervention of former Meath star Richie Kealy offered a lifeline to Summerhill: in a congested scrap for possession, the veteran Dunshaughlin sub was deemed to have handled on the ground. The resultant free was moved forward for dissent and Ennis, in light of his earlier long-range heroics, could scarcely miss this routine tap-over. He didn't.

Aftewards, Dunshaughlin manager Gary Farrelly was philosophical on the late free, saying: "Look, there were a couple of decisions that could have gone either way towards the end. So I think it's fair enough ... it would have been hard on either team to lose it."

Of the two, Farrelly's own charges probably have more reason for regret. Chasing a first Meath title since their 2002 three-in-a-row pomp, Dunshaughlin found themselves in early negative equity -- three down -- but then surged back into profit, leading 0-6 to 0-5 at the midpoint.

They had the best forward on the pitch in the livewire Cathal O'Dwyer, who hit 0-3 from play, and the best player overall in Meath defender Caoimhin King.



Powerhouse

King was a powerhouse at centre-back while producing a pivotal goal-line block five minutes after half-time. Ennis had seen his first point-blank effort repelled by goalkeeper Ronan Gogan, but David Larkin looked certain to score on the rebound until King somehow came to Dunshaughlin's rescue.

A goal could have transformed this attritional contest, but Summerhill manager McCabe was still glad to escape with a draw. "We never got to grips with the conditions," lamented the brother of former Cavan All Star Dermot. "For most of the game, I think Dunshaughlin were much hungrier for the ball, to be honest."

Summerhill haven't conquered Meath since 1986. "Obviously there will be players out there who didn't do themselves justice," said McCabe, who hopes they now know what it takes to seal the deal on county final day.

SCORERS - Dunshaughlin: C O'Dwyer 0-3, C Deveraux, T Dowd (2f) 0-2 each, D Kealy, F Toolan, N Murphy 0-1 each. Summerhill: B Ennis 0-5f, C Gillespie 0-2, D Larkin, P Rispin, A Kenny 0-1 each.

DUNSHAUGHLIN: R Gogan; A Doyle, K McTigue, M Ahern; A Johnson, C King, D Kealy; J Crimmins, R Maloney; F Toolan, T Johnson, C Deveraux; T Dowd, N Murphy, C O'Dwyer. Subs: R Kealy for Murphy (48), N Kelly for T Johnson (52), M Reilly for Toolan (56), T O Duishlaine for Deveraux (59). Booked: None. Wides: 5 (5+0).

SUMMERHILL: T McDonnell; C Young, W Ryan, D Dalton; S Husband, R Hatton, M Gorman; M Byrne, C Gillespie; D Larkin, B Ennis, M Kennedy; P Rispin, S Kennedy, A Kenny. Subs: B Lyons for M Kennedy (38), P Larkin for Rispin (51), C Malone for Husband (55). Booked: Gillespie (19). Wides: 9 (5+4).

REF: C Reilly (St Mary's).

MAN OF THE MATCH: Caoimhin King (Dunshaughlin).