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Joey the hero for Ratoath

Meath SFC final: Ratoath 1-14 Gaeil Colmcille 1-13

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Joey Wallace watches the ball going into the net for
Ratoath’s winning goal in the last minute of the Meath SFC Final against Gaeil Colmcille at Páirc Táilteann in Navan. Photo: Sportsfile

Joey Wallace watches the ball going into the net for Ratoath’s winning goal in the last minute of the Meath SFC Final against Gaeil Colmcille at Páirc Táilteann in Navan. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Joey Wallace watches the ball going into the net for Ratoath’s winning goal in the last minute of the Meath SFC Final against Gaeil Colmcille at Páirc Táilteann in Navan. Photo: Sportsfile

On Saturday, Ratoath manager and former Meath footballer Brian Farrell picked up the phone to Joey Wallace and told him he'd be starting the following day's Meath SFC final.

On the face of it, there was nothing extraordinary in that. Wallace has been part of the Meath set up for the last few seasons and in normal circumstances, he'd have been one of the first names on the Ratoath team sheet.

However, this time around it wasn't as straightforward. Along with his brother and fellow Meath panellist Eamonn, Wallace had spent much of the year training for athletics and only rejoined Ratoath in the build up to their semi-final. Before yesterday's decider, he hadn't kicked a ball for Ratoath this year.

In the end, he'd be the hero for 14-man Ratoath in what was one of the most dramatic finales to a county final you're likely to see. The teams had been well matched for the most part. Gaeil Colmcille took a three-point lead (0-9 to 0-6) in at the break after both sides had picked up a black card in the first half.

They produced some entertaining, open football, despite the greasy conditions. And with the game in the melting point, Ratoath had reeled Kells in and were a point up as we closed towards the hour mark.

The dying embers of the game was packed full of drama. When Ratoath sub Emmet Boyle walked on a straight red card for a hit on Conal Courtney that forced the Gaeil Colmcille man out of the fray, the door looked open for the Kells men to win the Keegan cup for the first time since 1991.

Seamus Mattimoe equalised from a free as we headed into seven minutes of injury time before the same player was felled for a penalty after Ratoath failed to clear their lines.

By the time former Monaghan 'keeper Shane Duffy picked the ball out of his net after Brian Hanlon had coolly slotted home, Kells were three points to the good with five minutes to see out against 14 men.

And for the most part, they looked to be going about their business in the right way. By now, Farrell had thrown Eamonn Wallace into the fray but the reigning champions struggled to get anything going as Kells ran in subs.

Bryan McMahon cut the gap to two with a free and they were thrown one final lifeline when a Gaeil Colmcille defender hurried a clearance back over the sideline and into the stand when he had more time than he realised.

Ratoath worked the sideline kick and Andrew Gerrard launched a hopeful punt into the square. The ball broke to Wallace, and with the game now in its 69th minute, he slapped the loose ball to the net in what was effectively the last act of the game.

"When they got that penalty I just said to Daithi McGowan, go in there because we're going to start launching balls in," said man-of-the-match Wallace, who finished the day with 1-3.

"We did the same against Garrycastle last year and we got joy from that. It's a bit of luck, that ball could have broke anywhere, it's just luck.

"It was a long ball in, it bounced around the square, about four lads jumped. I just positioned myself at the edge of the box and it just fell my way. I think one of them was on the goal-line and it just kind of fell off me to him and went in.

"Their body language was very good, they were believing they had it won but we always believed we'd have one more chance. Once you're within a kick of the ball you always have a chance and the luck broke our way today. Condolences to Kells, but they'll be back."

With Wallace's goal, Pairc Tailteann fell into stunned silence. Wallace celebrated by sliding on his knees towards the empty terrace as Ratoath, who only played their first game of senior football in 2016, made it back-to-back titles.

For Kells, it was about as cruel a defeat as you can suffer. They had lost out in four semi-finals and a quarter-final in the last five seasons. This time they had been undone at the death by Ratoath and Wallace.

"It's my first game this year for Ratoath," Wallace explained. "I was doing athletics all summer and then I came back training two weeks before the semi-final for Ratoath.

"I found out (he was starting) yesterday, got a phone call off Brian.

"So I've a lot of respect for him putting trust in me, a lot of managers wouldn't."

SCORERS - Ratoath: J Wallace 1-3, B McMahon 0-5 (3f), D McGowan 0-4 (1 45, 3f), C O'Brien, J Flynn 0-1 each. Gaeil Colmcille: B Hanlon 1-5 (1-0 pen, 4f), S Mattimoe 0-4 (3f), L Ferguson, J Reilly, E Sheridan, C Courtney 0-1 each.

Ratoath: S Duffy; C O Ferraigh, C McGill, B Wyer; J Gillespie, G McGowan, A Gerrard; B McGowan, J Wallace; D McGowan, C Rogers, C Rooney; C O'Brien, B McMahon, J Flynn Subs E Wallace for Rogers (37), E Boyle for Gillespie (44), C Aherne for Rooney (52), K McCabe for O'Brien (56), D Kelly for B McGowan (60+3). Gaeil Colmcille: J Carry-Lynch; J Muldoon, P Tormey, J Reilly; A Muldoon, S Curran, F Reilly; L Ferguson, O Reilly; E Sheridan, P Ward, C Courtney; S Mattimoe, M Barrett, B Hanlon. Subs: B Smith for Ward (37), B Tormey for Curran (47), K Reilly for Courtney (57), R Farnham for Hanlon (60+5), C Doogan for M Barrett (60+6)

Referee: D Coldrick (Blackhall Gaels)