Jack O’Connor hit a contender for the fastest goal in the 2022 Football Championship as Meath comfortably got rid of Wicklow at Navan to secure their place in the Leinster SFC semi-finals.
The Royals will be in tonight’s draw for the provincial semi-finals and, in truth, there was rarely any doubt as to their progress, although they will also feel there is plenty of room for improvement.
O’Connor’s goal came after just nine seconds and effectively gave them a three-point lead, although James McEntee scored another goal in the sixth minute it was far from straightforward.
Wicklow was boosted by their victory over Laois and it was only after second-half goals from substitutes Mathew Costello and Jack Flynn that Meath was finally able to expire.
They will head into tonight’s draw in Sunday’s game with away hopes of repeating their 2010 provincial title win while Wicklow, who scored a late consolation goal from substitute Oisin McGraynor, will advance to the Tailteann cut.
Meath probably had a plan in place for just about every possibility in this Championship opener – apart from scoring a goal within 10 seconds.
Dean Rock may have hit the net for Dublin 13 seconds into the 2020 All-Ireland Final, but O’Connor went one better by slotting his middle finger just nine seconds into this contest.
Bryan Menton won the throw-in ball from referee Paul Faloon and fed his midfield partner Ronan Jones who picked out the rushing O’Connor for a well-worked solo goal, sliding the ball low past the stunned keeper Mark Jackson.
Padraig O’Toole and Kevin Quinn responded with points from Wicklow before the visitors were sucked in by another Meath goal, this time from McEntee.
Wicklow was surely furious about the concession as Menton’s initial attempt was poor and went down, but McEntee was the quickest to step in, beating Jackson in an aerial battle and heading the ball towards the net.
With just six minutes on the clock and two goals already scored, Meath supporters in the estimated 5,000 crowd must have been thinking about a possible goalfest similar to the 2020 provincial clash at Aughrim when the Royals scored 7-14.
What actually happened was that the teams battled it out from there until half-time, splitting 10 points evenly between them to leave Meath 2-5 0-7 ahead at the interval.
Jackson came forward to convert two set balls for Wicklow, one of them in the 26th minute 1945 after Meath defender Robin Clarke cleared a dangerous through ball from his own goal line.
Jordan Morris, who scored 3-4 on his Championship debut in this 2020 game, opened his account with a converted free for Meath in the 29th minute, but O’Connor, Meath’s new free taker on the side left field, lost two great opportunities.
It was all a little disappointing from Meath’s perspective, but they were better after the restart and went a long way to killing the contest with a series of third-quarter scores.
Within 10 minutes of half-time, Meath beat Wicklow 1-3 to 0-1 with Costello’s 45th-minute goal a peach, the Dunshaughlin man playing a deft one-two with Jason Scully before slide the ball towards the net.
That left 10 points between the sides and the gap was 13 late before McGraynor beat Meath keeper Harry Hogan through the air in stoppage time to score Wicklow’s only goal.
J O’Connor (1-3, 2 free); B Menton, J Morris (2 free) (0-4 each); J McEntee, M Costello, J Flynn (1-0 each); TO’Reilly (0-2).
E Darcy (4 free), M Jackson (3 free, 1’45) (0-4 each); O McGraynor (1-0); P O’Toole (0-2); K Quinn, R Stokes (0-1 each).
H Hogan; R Clarke, C McGill, E Harkin; J McEntee, D Keogan, C Hickey; B Menton, R Jones; J Scully, T O’Reilly, J O’Connor; J Morris, C O’Sullivan, J Wallace.
R Ryan for Hickey (h/t); M Costello for Wallace (38); J Flynn for Jones (60); S Walsh for Scully (62); J Muldoon for Harkin (64).
M Jackson; Pierre M, P O’Keane, T Moran; N Devereaux, A Maher, Z Cullen; P O’Toole, JP Hurley; R Stokes, D Healy, D Fitzgerald; M Kenny, K Quinn, E Darcy.
O McGraynor for Hurley (47); O Cullen for Stokes (52); A Murphy for Devereaux (64); J Kirwan for Darcy (68); M Traynor for O’Toole (72).
P Faloon (bottom).