What Jason Ryan said about his Kildare players’ opening half display may have been delivered in matter of fact way. It was nonetheless cutting.
Had he the option of more subs, he admitted, he would have used them. Strangely, he only made the one switch in that period — and a forced one at that, an injury to Paddy Brophy.
His management should look just as carefully at their own performance as large swathes of space were conceded by a defence that looked ineffective in going man-on-man with their Meath counterparts.
Before Meath struck their first goal in first-half injury-time, Mark Donnellan had thrice had to deny Dalton McDonagh, making a terrific double save just minutes before.
Young kid on the block Joe Wallace had banged a bar.
After burning Michael Foley, the otherwise dangerous Stephen Bray shot wide when the chance screamed a goal.
The problems Foley and Hugh McGrillen have had this year had been well sign posted and Meath took direction from them. The warning signs blared loudly not too long after 2pm yesterday but nothing was done.
Foley wasn’t replaced until the second half when Kildare were 11 points down, one of Ryan’s first two tactical changes. By then, it was too late.
“There were stages there in the first-half we would have liked to have made 10 or 11 substitutions,” Ryan said, “but then it’s figuring where is it going to be of most benefit.
“And when things improved it is hard to factor in that any one player that came in was just awesome — it’s just that as a collective group the 14 outfield players played the game at far more pace. That’s the way we need to be playing from minute one rather than from minute 45.”
But why the slowness to make switches? Ryan’s words hinted at confusion.
“There was an element of ‘we want to make changes, where do we make those changes’. We could have changed the full-back line, the half-back line, midfield, the half-forward line.”
Kildare had taken a novel approach to the game from the outset, pushing all six of their forwards inside the 20m line at throw-in. For their restarts, they lined up their players from one end of the field in the middle. It worked at times. At others, it didn’t.
Meath themselves thought a little outside the box, operating three midfielders. Andrew Tormey also offered oodles of force around the centre in an all-round show of poised shooting, free-taking and team play.
It was his penalty in the second minute of first half injury-time which extended Meath’s interval lead from two to five points. McDonagh was deemed to have been tripped by Donnellan and Tormey’s strike was clinical.
Meath, 1-9 to 0-7 up after the sides were level on five occasions, were almost embarrassed by the vast amount of easy possession. As Ryan said afterwards, they were allowed to do things at will.
The Kildare manager, before speaking to the media after the game, had clearly checked his stats as he referenced Meath having just made four attacks after they had taken their opponents for 1-3 in five head-spinning minutes.
A Damien Carroll point was followed by a McDonagh goal when he spun Foley, sprinted for goal and finally got the better of Donnellan by sliding the ball low and past him.
Not satisfied, Meath struck again almost from the restart when Tormey punished a foul on Graham Reilly. Bray and then a Paddy O’Rourke free extended the gap to an unassailable 12-point lead, 2-13 to 1-8.
The promise of McDonagh and Tormey excited Mick O’Dowd.
“There was a lot of new players in that forward line that weren’t there last year, which was pleasing. As I keep saying, there’s a short term view on what we’re doing now in terms of a Leinster final. But there’s a long term project going on as well.”
With Meath hosed but clearly thinking they were home, Kildare were afforded some slack and but for a 55th minute Tormey free the next eight points came from them.
Alan Smith was a breath of fresh air, putting over a couple of points, and hitting the post with a sizzling strike near the death.
However, Kildare were apart from that restricted to long range efforts as Meath soaked up the pressure.
“We’ll learn from these experiences,” insisted Ryan. “The reality is that Kildare are a team that was relegated, we are a team with a huge number of new players and we’re not contenders with the Dubs for the All-Ireland just yet.”
That’s for sure and maybe missing out on July 20 is a blessing. But if Kildare are to change the record it’s not only the players who need to self-reflect.
Scorers for Meath: A Tormey (1-4, 1-0 pen, 2fs), S Brady (0-4), D McDonagh (1-0), P O’Rourke (1 45, 1f), D Carroll (0-2 each), S O’Rourke, G Reilly, J Wallace, D Bray (0-1 each).
Scorers for Kildare: P Fogarty (0-6, 4fs), P O’Neill, E Callaghan (0-3 each), T Moolick, A Smith (0-2 each), N Kelly (0-1).
MEATH: P O’Rourke; K Reilly, E Harrington, P Harnan; D Tobin, D Keogan, D Carroll; B Meade, S O’Rourke; B Menton, G Reilly, A Tormey; D McDonagh, S Brady, B McMahon.
Subs for Meath: J Wallace for B McMahon (inj 8); A Flanagan for B Meade (50); S Kenny for D Carroll (59), D Bray for D McDonagh (61); M Burke for K Reilly (inj 63).
KILDARE: M Donnellan; F Conway, H McGrillen, M Foley; K Cribbin, O Lyons, E Bolton; T Moolick, P O’Neill; C McNally, N Kelly, S Hurley; E Callaghan, P Fogarty, P Brophy.
Subs for Kildare: A Smith for P Brophy (inj 33); C Fitzpatrick for S Hurley, G White for M Foley (both 44); E Doyle for E Bolton (47); E O’Flaherty for C McNally (50); T O’Connor for P Fogarty (67).
Referee: R Hickey (Clare).