Down and Meath will play each other at the Tailteann Cup final after the two county teams win their last four Croke Park matches.
On Sunday, Meath beat Antrim by two points during the first leg of the GAA football semi-final, crashing any hope the latter had of making it to the finals.
At the break, the Saffrons were leading by one point, but Meath came back strongly in the second half and won 2-16 to 2-14.
Down’s Liam Kerr scored three goals, helping the Mourne men to put the ball in the back of the net eight times as they thrashed Laois 8-16 to 2-12 to head to the finals.
Now, Down and Meath are set to meet each other in the Tailteann Cup, which will be played on Sunday, 15th July, at the GAA’s headquarters in Dublin.
During the first semi-final, Aaron Lynch scored first for Meath before Dominic McEnhill pulled one back from the penalty spot before the break.
Early in the second half, Meath’s Jordan Morris scored one for his team before Patrick McBride found the net for Antrim to keep them in the game.
This meant that Meath would play Down or Laois in the cup final, with the two sides having an opportunity on Sunday’s second semi-final at GAA headquarters to battle it out for a spot in the finals.
During an exciting and competitive first half, Antrim found their footing fast, with points from Adam Loughran and Dominic McEnhill giving the team a welcome advantage in the early parts of the game.
Antrim continued to control the early parts of the game with Michael Byrne free, and a shot from McBride gave Andy McEntee’s team an early 0-5 to 0-2 lead after only 11 minutes.
However, in the 12th minute, Meath pulled themselves back into the game, thanks to Lynch’s powerful shot that was accurately directed at the corner of Antrim’s and almost impossible for Byrne to save.
Matthew Costello scored a goal in the 22nd minute to give Meath the lead for the first time in the game. However, a minute later, Antrim regained the front position in the game through a well-taken McEnhill penalty, awarded after Meath’s Harry O’Higgins brought down Ruairí McCann in the box.
The score line meant that Saffrons maintained a one-point advantage until the break and led 1-7 to 1-6.
During the second half, Meath came back stronger and scored a goal in the 42nd minute through Morris, extending the Royals’ lead to eight points.
The drama was not over yet as McBride put the ball behind Meath’s net in the 63rd minute, setting the stage for a surprise comeback. Morris and Costello would score late in the game to get Meath into the finals with two points remaining.
Down Thump Laois as Kerr scores a hat-trick for the winners
Kerr scored three goals to help Down overcome Laois and qualify for the finals.
Laois struggles to cope with the power and pace demonstrated by Down, allowing the Mourne men to sail to the finals with Meath.
Besides Kerrs scoring thrice, Danny Magill scored two goals against Laois and Pat Havern; Odhran Murdock and Rory Mason also got on the score sheet to help Down push the match beyond Laois’s reach.
Although Laois had a bad day in the office, they did not go down easily, scoring two goals through Kevin Swayne and a perfectly scored goal from Mark Barry.
Down immediately asserted themselves in the game, with Kerr breezing through Laois’s defense to put the ball into the net in the first minute.
Among other players, Havern has performed well in the Tailteann Cup and scored an important goal in the 8th minute of the game.
Barry later opened the score for Laois in the 13th minute. However, Shealan Johnston’s shot came off the woodwork, and Kerr lurched to put the ball in the back of Laois’s net.
After only 16 minutes, Danny Magill scored the fourth goal for Down to secure their win and set the team on a path to score more goals.
Before the break, Rory Mason and Ceilum Doherty got onto the scoresheet and enabled Mournemen to halftime with the team already in the final, thanks to a 4-10 to 0-4 scoreline.
The down approach to the game was not waning as Kerr rounded off his hat trick by finishing a close-range shot near the goal.
Down’s under-20 player Murdock scored their sixth goal of the game as their strikers got themselves in plenty of space to allow Mason to slot home goal number seven, which was placed away from the reach of Laois goalkeeper Killian Roche.
Laois pulled back two goals through Swayne and a Barry penalty, with Magill scoring Meath’s eighth goal in between those two Laois goals to confirm his team’s qualification into the final scheduled for next month.