A third Allianz League Division 2 win for Meath, and a first on the road for the Royals. For Cork the misery continues with the spectre of relegation to Division 3 looming ominously. Next Saturday night’s trip to Thurles has taken on the status of a must-win.
Many of the crippling inhibitors - uncertainty, an absence of self-belief among them – were evident in red at Pairc Ui Rinn, especially in the second period when Ronan McCarthy’s side had the opportunity to kick on and claim a first competitive win since last May.
Two point down but a man up after Bryan Menton’s 35th minute black card, Cork couldn’t find the ignition to kick on. Ultimately a well worked goal on 52 minutes from Meath debutant Gavin McCoy put Andy McEntee’s side in a winning position.
It isn’t Meath glided through the gears either – they are still a work in progress for McEntee in his third season in charge. It was more that their play was largely unflustered and uninhibited. From the opening point after 40 seconds via midfielder Menton, they had an initial fluency conspicuously absent in their opponents.
Two Cork defenders collided, turning an inconsequential moment into an unnecessary goal scare, while others had their pockets picked by Meath players thinking and acting half a second quicker.
The impressive Daire Campion (20) from Skryne won a free that Micky Newman converted and McMahon was needlessly fouled on 18 minutes to gift Newman another point.
Nonetheless, with Paul Kerrigan sitting deep, and wing back Kevin Crowley impressing Cork hung in there long enough to gain a foothold.
Ben Brennan drilled over a marvellous 24th minute point to ease the Royals 0-6 to 0-2 in front on 24 minutes, but it was their last score of the half. Cork corner back Conor Dennehy found himself sufficiently advanced to swing over a left-footed point, and a crucial Kevin Crowley block-down was followed at the other end by a Connolly pointed free.
The final minutes of the half offered any Cork optimists in the crowd the sense that their luck might finally be turning. Following Menton’s black card, Luke Connolly drilled over Cork’s fifth point to reduce the gap to one.
However from the kickout, Cillian O’Sullivan scorched through the heart of the Cork defence and tee up Bryan McMahon for the finish. While everyone waited for Micheal Martin’s net to bulge, the Ratoath man pulled his shot into the near side-netting. Big let off for Cork.
Give they began the second half still a man to the good, it will have disappointed Ronan McCarthy that it was Meath who looked the more inventive again.
Sub Graham Reilly grabbed a point and by the return of Bryan Menton in the 43rd minute Meath had gone score for score with their hosts at 0-8 to 0-6. In fact Cork would go from the 37th to the 54th minute without a score.
One of their more persistent second half problems was one of football’s most fundamental – they had no ball winners up top, nobody who could make the ball stick and give them a foothold in the final third. Consequently, the ball kept coming back down on top of their overworked backline.
On the back of another turnover, Cillian O’Sullivan landed a lovely 50th minute point to stretch the Meath lead to 0-10 top 0-6. The sense that the momentum had shifted strikingly back to the visitors was franked from the kickout.
Again, the small stuff undid Cork. Meath’s Ronan Ryan was allowed run off a tap down from Cork’s Ian Maguire and it set in train the four man movement which culminated in a debut goal for Meath wing back Gavin McCoy on 52 minutes. With an Ethan Devine point to follow, suddenly it was 1-11 to 0-6 to Meath. The domestic deflation was palpable.
If there was a bright spot for Cork it was the return to colours of Seanie Powter, and he reminded many what had been missing when he got on the end of Mark Collins’s fisted centre to goal.
A couple of Mark Collins frees had it back to four points (1-12 to 1-8) heading into added time, but a loose pass out of defence presented Meath sub Barry Dardis with a second goal – and an emphatic exclamation mark on a deserved victory.
Scorers for Cork: S Powter (1-0), L Connolly (0-2, frees), M Hurley (0-2), M Collins (0-2, frees), R Deane, C. Dennehy, M Taylor (0-1 each)
Scorers for Meath: M Newman (0-4, 3 frees), B Dardis (1-1), G McCoy (1-0), B Brennan (0-2, 1 free), B Menton, C O’Sullivan, G Reilly, B McMahon, T O’Reilly (0-1 each).
Subs for Cork: M Collins for Connolly (43); B Hurley for Walsh (45); Tomas Clancy for Crowley (51); S Powter for M Hurley (54); E McSweeney for O’Toole (61).
A Colgan; S Lavin, C McGill, R Ryan; G McCoy, D Keoghan, S Gallagher; B Menton, S McEntee; C O’Sullivan, B Brennan, D Campion; B McMahon, M Newman, T O’Reilly.
Subs for Meath: G Reilly for Brennan (32); E Devine for Campion (52); B Dardis for for C O’Sullivan (62); N Kane for McCoy (63); A Flanagan for McEntee (69).
Referee: F Kelly (Longford)