There was a brief moment midway through the second half when Carlow pared the gap down to five points and a comeback looked possible.
Instead, Meath simply upped a gear and left their hosts for dust.
Meath march on, but how far they will get is anyone’s guess as yesterday’s win against a thoroughly mediocre Carlow side is certainly no barometer on which to make judgement.
When Liam Hayes took the Carlow job before the start of last season he declared that 12 of his new charges would walk onto the Meath side. He also said something about the Barrowsiders winning a Leinster title in a handful of years. Both claims were made look laughable yesterday.
Only one of Carlow’s starting forwards scored a point from play in 70-odd minutes of football. Aside from a clutch of players like that scorer Simon Rea, the Walsh brothers, Patrick and Thomas, Mark Carpenter and Mark Brennan, Carlow’s talent cupboard looks rather bare.
Their next tour of duty is supposed to be the Tommy Murphy Cup, but their involvement in that tournament must now be in serious doubt after Hayes revealed yesterday that he would be giving it ‘a wide berth’.
For Meath, Anthony Moyles was finally able to start a game again after a lengthy injury problem and the Blackhall Gaels man was a rock at centre-back in a defence that was reshuffled after the withdrawal of corner-back Niall McKeigue with a hamstring strain.
Moyles’ usual midfield duties were taken up by young Mark Ward who, despite some negatives, earned a few gold stars with some sublime fielding. Graham Geraghty did his bit too, scoring the third minute goal that settled Meath while also having to stand up to some heavy physical attention.
Carlow might have been limited in the basics of the game, but they looked to make up for it by use of force, seven of their players seeing yellow and substitute Trevor Smith seeing it twice a minute from time.
In such an environment, and with the result a foregone conclusion, Meath manager Eamonn Barry took no chance by calling ashore both Geraghty and Ward after the pair had picked up cautions.
A wise move maybe, but Geraghty took offence to being wrapped in cotton wool and flung his jersey to the sideline not once, but twice, after reaching the bench.
Given the recent history between Geraghty and Barry, that moment of petulance will have set one or two Meath hearts aflutter, but the overall good far outweighed the bad and Joe Sheridan was the highlight of the lot.
He scored Meath’s first point and their last and it was a purple patch from the centre-forward, which saw him score twice and set up another point between the ninth and 12th minutes, that proved to be the catalyst for Meath’s stroll to the finish line.
Every score he hit yesterday was a peach and he linked play equally well for fellow forwards. Actually, Barry will be delighted with most of his side’s attacking display. It took them 30 minutes to rack up their first wide.
“I’m very pleased with that performance,” Barry reflected afterwards. “We came down to win a match and we did that quite convincingly. The scoreboard reflects that.”
The truth is that Barry couldn’t really have asked for any more from his players. Meath may have taken their foot off the pedal after the half-time break which they reached seven points to the good, but they never looked like being caught.
Carlow’s hopes of causing an upset against Laois in Leinster last month were torpedoed inside the first quarter by a blindingly fast opening from Mick O’Dwyer’s side and Barry’s boys doubled the dosage yesterday.
“That was the plan,” Barry explained. “A good start is half the battle, as we all know. If you’re chasing the game, as we have so often in the league games, it’s very hard to catch up at times. We got that six, seven and eight point cushion and we held onto it.”
They were 1-1 to the good by the third minute and scored six unanswered points before the break to seal the deal. Carlow’s mini-ascent back towards parity saw them denied two goals by Meath keeper Brendan Murphy on the turn around.
A goal either time might have made things interesting, but instead an already scrappy game descended further down a slippery slope.
: B Murphy; S MacGabann, K Reilly, C King (0-1); N McLoughlin, A Moyles, S Kenny; N Crawford (0-1), M Ward; P Curran (0-1), J Sheridan (0-4), G Geraghty (1-1); D Regan, M Doran, B Farrell.
: J Donoghue for King 35, C McCarthy (0-3) for Ward 42, R Magee (0-1) for Curran 56, O Murphy for Geraghty 57, S McInerney for Kenny 63.
: G McGill; J Ryan, M Brennan, B Farrell; J Hayden, J Byrne, B Hannon; P Walsh (0-1), T Walsh (0-1); B Carbery, A Kelly, P Hickey (0-2, 1f); S Rea (0-6, 5f), M Carpenter, B Kelly.
: J Kavanagh for Kelly 28, T Smyth (0-1) for Hayden 32, J Fitzgerald for Carpenter 35, D Byrne (0-1) for Carbery 45.
: A Mangan (Kerry).