1 Aug 2009 - GAA - SFC Qualifier: Dominant Meath just hold on

It was a game where the estimated crowd of 7,500 were kept on the edge of their seats throughout as Limerick failed to throw in the towel. This despite Meath looking very impressive, especially in the third quarter, where the Royals built up a six-point cushion.

However they failed to shake off the Shannonsiders who were dogged throughout and extremely unlucky not to send this game to extra-time.

It was a contest which wasn't without its' fair share of controversy, with Meath really pushed to the pin of their collar when influential captain Stephen Bray was dismissed with a little over four minutes of normal time remaining.

Bray was superb as he surpassed his scoring tally from his last four Championship games with the Royals this year, with a match tally of four points.

Bray and Cian Ward were superb in the opening half of a game which saw Meath in superb form in the opening half.

However it was Limerick who settled quickest with the opening point arriving from an Ian Ryan in the third minute.

Meath equalised four minutes later with Ward slotting over his 19th point of the Championship, and although Limerick goalkeeper Sean Kiely pulled off an excellent save soon-after from a rasping Peadar Byrne shot - the Royals quickly built momentum.

Byrne's goal effort came after an excellent team move and although Ward and Ger Collins traded points it didn't take long for Meath to break through the Limerick rear-guard for a vital three-pointer.

Ward showed great confidence, composure and vision in this move. Despite the ball being knocked out of his hand by a Limerick corner-back, Ward regained possession and dispatched a left-footed shot past the advancing Kiely.

A brace of Stephen Bray points ensured a comfortable 1-4 to 0-2 advantage for the Royals at the end of a fast paced opening quarter.

Limerick kept in touch thanks to the free-taking abilities of Stephen Kelly, but Meath weren't only pushed on the score-sheet following these fouls with points, as Bray, Peadar Byrne and Cian Ward all received first-half yellow cards.

Meath led by 1-6 to 0-5 at the interval, but pushed five points clear within a minute of the restart as Brian Farrell slotted over his first score.

Limerick kept in touch thanks to points from Ian Ryan and Ger Collins, but with Byrne (2) and Chris O'Connor on target for Meath points the Royals held a 1-10 to 0-7 lead by the 45th minute.

But Eamon O'Brien's men hadn't fully read the script, as two goals in the space of 10 minutes saw Limerick bound back into contention.

Seanie Buckley was on target for Limerick's first goal on the 48th minute, after he rounded six Meath defenders to crash the ball to the net, following excellent support play by Jim O'Donovan and Patrick Ranahan, to cut the deficit to three points.

Suddenly defences got on top, with O'Connor and Stephen Bray squeezing through for points for the Royals, before Limerick went on a goal search once again.

Controversy reigned after the second goal was awarded, when it appeared that Jim O'Donovan rode his luck to crash the ball to the net, despite Meath's calls for a square-ball.

O'Riordain slithered the ball over the line after dispossessing Nigel Crawford, who collided with goalkeeper Paddy O'Rourke to gift the Shannonsiders possession and cut the gap to two points.

A fifth point of the game from Kelly cut the gap to a point with 11 minutes remaining, but Meath settled thanks to a well earned score from half-back Caoimhin King.

Tempers frayed as the intensity upped a gear with the full-time whistle, and a chance for Limerick to perhaps gain a first ever All-Ireland quarter-final spot looming large.

Limerick goalkeeper Kiely and defender Mark O'Riordain were shown yellow cards either side of Bray's dismissal.

An Ian Ryan pointed free cut the gap to the minimum once more with three minutes of normal time remaining, and although Limerick owned possession in the closing stages - luck was not on their side.

At least two minutes of injury time were indicated by the fourth official, but with a minute and 21 seconds on the clock an advancing Stephen Lucey was blown for overholding 16 metres from the Meath posts.

Time ran out for Limerick as memories of 1996 will now be evoked in the Royal County with Mayo standing between Meath and an All-Ireland semi-final, in next weekends last eight encounter at Croke Park.

Meath - P O'Rourke; C O'Connor (0-2), A Moyles, E Harrington; S Kenny, C McGuinness, C King (0-1); N Crawford, B Meade; P Byrne (0-2), J Sheridan, S Bray (0-4); D Bray (0-1), B Farrell (0-1), C Ward (1-2,1f, 1'45). Subs: M Burke for Byrne (57); B Regan for Farrell (68).

Limerick - S Kiely; J McCarthy, S Gallagher, M O'Riordan; S Lavin, S Lucey, P Ranahan; J Stokes, J Galvin; P Browne, C Joyce-Power, S Buckley (1-0); G Collins (0-2,2f), S Kelly (0-5,1f) I Ryan (0-2,1f). Subs: J O'Donovan (1-0) for Stokes (41); J Mullane for Browne (54); B O'Brien for Joyce-Power (62); E Hogan for Buckley (66).

Ref - Paudie Hughes (Armagh)