There we were, in a circle in the wide tunnel between the dressing rooms in O’Connor Park on Saturday night with manager Luke Dempsey, amenable as always, swirling around left and right to give us his thoughts on the latest Carlow defeat.
Meath manager Seamus ‘Banty’ McEnaney, in chatty mood as well, waited patiently before beckoning us over to the side of the tunnel, where he was leaning against the wall with one foot arched up against it. We could try to gun him with anything from the front, but nobody was going to surprise him from behind. His reign, if that’s what it can be called, with the Royals has honed survival instincts.
In any event, any notion of gunning him about anything was quickly dispelled as he adopted an ‘attack is best form of defence’ mode.
“How many Leinster championship semi-finals have Meath played in the last ten years?,” he levelled at us. None of us had a clue, of course, and wouldn’t until we cranked up the computers.
‘Banty’ warmed to the inquisition, pointedly aiming the question at a few hacks with Meath DNA. “Quickly,” he urged, looking for an answer but no one was brave or silly enough to slip open an iPhone or iPad.
“One lads, one,” he said, was the number of Leinster semi-finals Meath had reached in a decade.
He’s wrong, of course, they have been in three, losing to Kildare in 2003 and Laois a year later, but they have only won one, the drubbing of Dublin 2010. Meath have only won one semi-final in a decade, that’s probably what he was trying to highlight, but released the scud a tad too early.
“We have worked hard against a lot of different things,” is probably the understatement of the year but we knew where ‘Banty’ was coming from on that one. The point is, they are one match away from a Leinster final despite all that has gone on and on Saturday night in Tullamore they posted an impressive score despite shooting 13 wides.
They should, of course, have seen off Carlow a week earlier in this Leinster quarter-final and for most of the opening quarter on Saturday evening, as Dempsey’s men kept edging a point in front despite playing against the strong wind, there was the suggestion that this one could be close as well.
But Carlow, minus three key players from the drawn tie, could not keep it up, especially as Brendan Murphy began to falter after a strong opening. He was lucky to be playing at all, the go-ahead on a concussion concern just being given shortly before throw-in.
“We got the doctor Gerry O’Flynn to examine him before the match, that’s how close it was,” said Dempsey. “He hadn’t the same effect today, and the other injuries and suspensions (hurt us).
“The game turned with 15 minutes to go in the first half when Meath were able to run at us,” added the Carlow boss, who is confident the squad will remain together for the qualifiers.
Meath minimised Murphy’s influence by crowding the sector, with Conor Gillepsie dragging him out to the sideline for kickouts, but Meath’s superiority also began to manifest itself when Joe Sheridan came into the game in the second quarter.
Carlow led 0-4 to 0-3 after 17 minutes thanks to a couple of points from JJ Smith, Kieran Nolan and Brian Murphy, but Meath took control with Brian Farrell and Graham Reilly leading the charge.
They hit 1-8 without reply from there to the break, with Sheridan putting sub Peadar Byrne through for the first of two goals after 28 minutes for Meath to lead 1-11 to 0-4 at the interval.
Carlow needed a good start to the second-half to have any chance of recording their first championship win over Meath, but the Royals continued to dominate, with Sheridan crashing a volley off a post while keeper Trevor O’Reilly produced a fine save to deny Bryan Menton.
The points kept coming and they were 1-16 to 0-7 ahead by the time Keith Jackson fired home a goal for Carlow after 55 minutes.
But Meath were full of running to the end, Byrne grabbing his second goal in the closing stages after a poor kickout to complete the job.
“I wasn’t worried from the time I left the house,” said ‘Banty’. “When last did we get four games in the Leinster championship? — just once in ten years,” he added.
Nobody can deny progress is being made, but his detractors in Meath will quickly point out they used to measure success differently in the past.
Scorers for Meath: B Farrell 0-8 (5f), P Byrne 2-0, G Reilly 0-4, D Carroll 0-2, A Forde 0-2, J Queeney 0-2, C Gillepsie 0-1, B Menton 0-1, C Ward 0-1 (45).
Scorers for Carlow: JJ Smith 0-5 (3f), K Jackson 1-0, K Nolan 0-1, D Foley 0-1, Brian Murphy 0-1 (1f), Brendan Murphy 0-1 (1f).
Subs for Meath: P Byrne for Meade, 17; E Harrington for K Reilly, 59; J Queeney for G Reilly, 62; C O’Connor for Tobin, 65; M Collins for Ward, 66.
Subs for Carlow: B Lambe for Lawlor, 42; K Jackson for C Murphy, 42; BJ Molloy for P Murphy, 55; L Shepard for Foley, 60; P McElligott for Bolger, 66.
Referee: Derek Fahy (Longford).