By Kevin Egan
Roscommon 2-10 Meath 0-14
"We'll look at promotion now, we couldn't mention it until we were safe," said John Evans after this afternoon’s win over Meath at Dr Hyde Park.
Promotion is now very much on the table for the Rossies, with just two games still to be played.
As the final score suggested, there was very little between these two teams this afternoon, and ultimately Roscommon’s greater potency in front of goal turned out to be the decisive factor.
Meath enjoyed plenty of primary possession, they earned several key turnovers in the tackle and they earned plenty of scoring chances, but eleven wides and a half a dozen shots dropped short cost them dearly, as did their inability to test Darren O’Malley in the Roscommon goal at any stage.
This was the third time in four games that Meath failed to raise a green flag and while that failure didn’t cost them a victory against Kildare, they’ve now dropped points to both Laois and Roscommon due to a lack of goals, two sides currently ahead of the Royals in the race for promotion to the top flight.
Roscommon, in contrast, really had to work off scraps here, and had just two points from play on the board by half time. Meath led 0-6 to 0-5 at that stage and with wind advantage still to come for Mick O’Dowd’s men, they looked like by far the more likely winners.
They certainly started the second half in the fashion of potential victors, picking off points from Kevin Reilly and Mark O’Sullivan, but those scores were soon cancelled out as the match returned to the state of a tense, tight stalemate.
In such games, one or two key moments tend to be critical and both of those key swing moments resulted in Roscommon goals.
The first came in the 48th of end to end action where defensive players were very much in the ascendancy.
Perhaps aptly, it was a defender who made the decisive intervention as Neil Collins made a trademark burst up the right flank of the attack before getting bottled up by four Meath defenders on the edge of the penalty area.
In a feat of escapism worthy of Houdini, Collins somehow forced the ball out of the crowd and across the edge of the small square, where Cathal Cragg was waiting gratefully to slam the ball into the net with a first time kick.
The next three points came from frees, two for Michael Newman and one for Diarmuid Murtagh, before the game was essentially decided by an error from Paddy O’Rourke with fourteen minutes remaining.
The Meath custodian had set his team up with several good attacking platforms over the course of this tie with his short kickouts, but on this occasion he failed to notice Senan Kilbride some 30 metres from goal and played the ball right into the hands of the big Roscommon full forward.
It was certainly a case of the right man in the right place for the home side as Kilbride burst towards goal and then picked out the inside of the near post with an exquisite finish to put Roscommon five points ahead.
The introduction of Eamon Wallace and Conor Gillespie added some impetus to Meath’s attacking play late on, and Meath supporters will be delighted to see Gillespie back in the green and gold colours after his long layoff with a cruciate ligament injury, but Roscommon were now able to defend with plenty of numbers.
Wallace picked off one score and Michael Newman added three more frees, but they were never likely to be enough as the clock inexorably ticked down towards Anthony Nolan’s final whistle.
Roscommon: D O’Malley (0-1, ’45); N Collins, N Carty, S McDermott; D Keenan, D Murray, N Daly; C Shine, M Healy (0-1); C Daly, C Murtagh (0-1f), C Cafferkey; D Murtagh (0-4, 0-2f), S Kilbride (1-0), C Cregg (1-1).
Subs: D Shine (0-2, 0-1f) for Healy (34), E Smith for C Murtagh (34), C Compton for D Murtagh (65), D Ward for Cregg (70)
Meath: P O’Rourke; D Tobin, C McGill, D Dalton; M Burke, D Keogan, B Power; B Menton, A Flanagan; G Reilly (0-2), P Harnan (0-1), K Reilly (0-1); M O’Sullivan (0-1), D Bray (0-1f), M Newman (0-7, 0-6f).
Subs: N Judge for Tobin (21, bc), J McEntee for Dalton (HT), S O’Rourke for D Bray (47), E Wallace (0-01) for O’Sullivan (52), C Gillespie for Menton (56), B McMahon for McGill (70)
Referee: Anthony Nolan (Wicklow)