London’s hurlers are reeling after a four point defeat to Meath, despite being five points clear of the Royal County on two separate occasions.
A win would have seen them qualify for an automatic semi-final berth and avoid Antrim, who are the bookies’ favourites to lift the cup, until the final stage.
They will now have to face Kildare, the side who held them to a draw at Ruislip earlier this year in the league, in Newbridge this Saturday in a quarterfinal play-off. London were five points clear of Meath with 20 minutes to play, but a rampant comeback from the visitors seen them hold London to just a point in that final period of play, while they scored 1-7.
London finished the match on a lull, and Meath looked hungrier for the win in a great team performance which saw ten of the starting line-up, and a substitute, get on the scoreboard.
A poor finish to the first half also saw London give away a commanding lead at the break, and the hosts failed to take full advantage of the breeze they had in the opening period. London talisman Kevin O’Loughlin opened the scoring in the first minute, but his effort was quickly negated by Adam Gannon when he scored a free two minutes later.
O’Loughlin would go on to miss two 65 attempts in succession soon after, which allowed Meath to sneak into the lead through corner forward Sean Quigley, who skilfully hit the ball over directly as a pass made contact with his hurl, before Gannon added another free.
London came back then in spectacular fashion as Daryl Roberts quickly fired over his attempt after eleven minutes, before Mark O’Dwyer made it two scored in the space of a minute to level the score at 0-3 to 0-3.
They were awarded a free next in their own half, which goalkeeper Eoin Kelly stood up to take, and his long free landed in the square for a substantial amount of time, with no London forward able to make contact with it for a goal before it was cleared to safety. They would go ahead again minutes later when an excellent pass from O’Dwyer found Peter Phelan for a great midrange score.
Meath responded with their first wide of the game through Gannon’s next free, and the resultant puck out from Kelly was worked well by the home side, setting up a score from 65 metres out for Brother Pearses’ Kevin Reid after only a couple of passes from play resuming.
Meath would have their first goal attempt next as Neil Heffernan skilfully played the ball into the ground to try to set up Gannon on the bounce, but it was well defended against by Ger Mahon.
Possession fell to Meath’s Gavin McGowan next, but a great block by Christopher McAlinden meant that the vistors’ missed out on another scoring opportunity before midfielder Sean Heavey got the next point to get within a point of London again.
When Meath were awarded a free in their own half it was their turn to send their goalkeeper up to take it and Shane McCann’s monumental strike over the posts levelled the game as Meath began to prove they could get scores from all areas of the pitch. But London responded immediately to cancel out the strike when Martin Duggan claimed his point in the next passage of play.
London began to use the breeze to their advantage as they went on to score another couple of points within 60 seconds, to go three in front, but a diagonal ball from Shane Brennan to Heffernan allowed the centre forward to claw back a smaller deficit.
Quigley would put his next two attempts wide, one of which seemed to be poor decision making when he went for the far post when his near side probably would have been the better option.
A Daryl Roberts wide meant that Meath capitalised on their next puck out, and a great ball from Heavey to McGowan, who scored two goals in his previous game against Wicklow, won him a free which Gannon duly scored.
With half an hour gone, London would stretch two points clear again through an O’Loughlin free, and his next set play would give London the breathing space they fought so hard for.
His free was received brilliantly by Duggan, who turned in on goal and bounced the sliotar underneath McCann to score the three-pointer at which looked great timing, on the cusp of half-time with only four minutes of normal play left.
But Meath responded straight away when Gannon rose highest in midfield to collect the next puck out and a great finish from his run down the left wing gave them a point straight after the goal.
Things would get worse for London as Heffernan would score a goal with just a minute left of the half, to bring his side within a point of London again. An impressive shot by Kevin Reid just afterwards gave London a two-point cushion at the break, but Meath would be playing with the wind advantage come the second half.
Duggan opened the scoring immediately after the break to bring London three points clear before a free from O’Loughlin extended the gap before Duggan set up Reid for his next score. London were five points clear once again and looked to be commanding the match but a wide soon afterwards from Noel McDonnell would give the advantage back to Meath who ended up scoring through captain James Toher’s free.
Duggan shot a wide soon afterwards which again was responded to with a score from Meath through Stephen Morris, and an O’Loughlin free was soon followed up when the Treacy’s man shot his next point wide.
Meath would get another two wides either side of a pointed O’Loughlin free, until they broke the mould and took the momentum once Gannon got a score from play under pressure from Thomas Lawrence.
He added another soon afterwards, before Kelly made a double save to keep Meath at bay a little longer. McGowan would get the next score for Meath to bring them to within two of London, before Damian Healy lifted his side with a great score from the half way line from play which came in the middle of a really good spell for Meath.
O’Loughlin would score London’s last point at this stage with another free, with the home side struggling to convert any chances from play now, and their heads dropped further soon after Shane Brenna’s brilliant score after being set up by Shane Whitty. London would shoot two more wides after that before the Meath forwards ran on goal and when Heffernan’s shot was saved well by Kelly, the keeper could do nothing about the quick rebound as McGowan reacted quickest to put the ball in the back of the net and go two points clear of London.
His side were lifted now and pushed on for the win as London failed to get a grip on the game again. They had one more goal chance as Roberts ran in on goal to set up substitute Thomas Lawrence, but the effort was cleared to safety and a point might have been the better option for London to get within a point again.
A point from Kevin Keenan gave Meath a three point cushion, before captain Toher put over his next free which would prove to be the game’s final score.
London continued to search for a way back, but too many wides and balls into Meath possession meant it was impossible to find a way back.
LONDON: Eoin Kelly, Conor Hickey, Luke Gaule, Christopher McAlinden, Ger Mahon, Fergal Collins, Shane O’Donnell, Noel McDonnell, Daryl Roberts (0-1), Michael Murphy, Peter Phelan (0-1), Mark O’Dwyer (0-2), Kevin O’Loughlin (0-6, 5fs), Kevin Reid (0-4), Martin Duggan (1-2) SUBS: Tadhg Healy for hickey, Dean Bruen for McDonnell, Richard Murphy for Phelan, Kevin Walsh for Reid
MEATH: Shane McCann (0-1, 1f), Cormac Reilly, David Donoghue, Shane Whitty, Shane Brennan (0-1), Damian Healy (0-1), Keith Koghan, Sean Heavey (0-1), Stephen Morris, James Toher (0-2, 1f), Ronan Sherlock (0-1), Adam Gannon (1-5, 3fs), Gavin McGowan (1-1), Neil Heffernan (0-2,), Sean Quigley (0-1) SUBS: Kevin Keena (0-1) for Quigley, Sean Geraghty for Gannon, Jack Walsh for Heffernan