Royals quickest to shake off the cobwebs

IT may not have been the Manchester derby but Meath and Wexford managed to shake off the inevitable January cobwebs and inject an unexpected amount of entertainment into an O’Byrne Cup game of little importance at Pairc Tailteann yesterday.

This being the first weekend of the GAA year, it was an afternoon liberally sprinkled with errant passes and much huffing and puffing. That all three yellow cards handed out were received for inadvertent ‘clotheslines’ was proof of just how far bodies and minds were out of synch.

Seasoned vets were as prone to mistakes as ruddy-cheeked youngsters, of which there were many on view and for whom an O’Byrne Cup game in front of a sparse attendance was the highlight of their nascent careers.

Meath’s full-forward Tom Walsh, a man who has flirted around the outskirts of the panel for some time now, was the standout performer with 1-3 while Wexford wing-back Lee Chin was another to impress.

Wexford conceded seven points without reply in the first quarter and looked set for a repeat of last year’s opener when they fell to DIT by an embarrassing 20-point margin.

PJ Banville’s 21st minute goal finally got Jason Ryan’s side off the mark and, though it seemed unlikely at the time, Meath were thankful for Walsh’s three-pointer midway through the second period which kept their pursuers at arm’s length.

“Lack of fitness levels lost us a bit after 15 minutes,” said Meath manager Seamus McEnaney.

“We didn’t work as hard as we should and let Wexford back into the game… but listen it was the first real game of the year after a challenge match on Tuesday night.

“It was pleasing to score 1-13. A decent return. We probably gave the ball away a bit too much but every team in the country probably did that. So did Wexford. We had that last Tuesday night. It is difficult to get up to speed and it is only days like this that will do that for you.”

Like Mickey Harte with Tyrone almost ten years ago, McEnaney’s stated aim this term is to go bald-headed for every win regardless of the competition.

Yesterday’s victory was a success claimed despite the absence of almost a dozen significant faces. Nigel Crawford and Paddy O’Rourke have taken a time out in 2012 and Joe Sheridan, Stephen Bray, Seamus Kenny and Shane O’Rourke were also absent.

Colm O’Rourke’s son is the only long-term concern, it seems. The forward had a hip/cartilage problem diagnosed late in 2011 and will go under the knife this Thursday with late March pencilled in as his earliest possible return.

As for Wexford, Kilkenny’s withdrawal form the competition has left them without a fixture in next week’s O’Byrne Shield and Ryan signalled his intention to work on his side’s physical strength.

Scorers for Meath: T Walsh (1-3); G Reilly (0-5, 4 frees); P Gilsenan (0-2); M Burke (0-1); C Gillespie (0-1); A Forde (0-1).

Scorers for Wexford: B Brosnan (0-3, 1 free); PJ Banville (1-0); A Flynn (0-2); L Chin (0-1); E Bradley (0-1): K O’Grady (0-1 free); R Quinlivan (0-1), P Kelly (0-1).

MEATH: D Gallagher; G O’Brien, B Menton, M Burke; C McGuinness, S McAnarney, C Lenihan; M Ward, C Gillespie; B Meade, G Reilly, D Tobin; P Gilsenan, T Walsh, A Forde.

Subs: C O’Connor for Lenihan (29); D Smyth for Forde (48); B Hanlon for Meade (60); J Carry Lynch for Gillespie (69), C O’Dwyer for Reilly (70).

WEXFORD: T Hughes; N Murphy, F Lancaster, S Culleton; L Chin, G Molloy, B Malone; D Watters, A Shore; E Bradley, B Brosnan, PJ Banville; P Byrne, K O’Grady, K Rowe.

Subs: P Kelly for O’Grady (51); A Flynn for Chin (51); R Quinlivan for Shore (54); S Banville for Rowe (63); A Doyle for Bradley (69).

Referee: P Kneel (Louth).

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