After yesterday annexing a first O’Byrne Cup title in 10 years, Meath will begin their Division 2 campaign against Armagh in Navan on Sunday confident they can make the jump to the top flight for the first time in nine years.
In front of almost 5,000 in Páirc Tailteann, they were only troubled by a 19-minute barren spell in the first-half but were untouchable after a 45th minute goal by Cillian O’Sullivan. After two years out with a back injury, O’Sullivan, along with six-point man of the match Graham Reilly, Mickey Newman and Harry Rooney were again heavy contributors in another satisfying win.
“I think a lot of the main Meath players are settling into themselves as inter- county players,” said O’Dowd.
“Players like Donal Keogan and Padraic Harnan, these guys have four years under their belt of inter-county football. There is quite a lot of stability over the last three years. There’s about 22 or 23 players coming into the age where they can really compete at this level. This is just a stepping stone… the season begins next Sunday so we need to be ready to move on.”
Longford afforded Reilly too much space for a lot of this final although nothing could detract from another accomplished performance by the dashing Colmcilles man. O’Dowd dismissed the seriousness of Reilly’s head injury, sustained after colliding with a Longford defender, which forced the player off in the closing stages.
“I don’t think he’s out for next Sunday as far as I know. He’s a player in his prime, he’s moving really well, he’s in good shape and showing great leadership in the dressing room.”
Reilly had words of praise for O’Sullivan too who showed again what Meath have been missing as he battled to overcome a back problem.
“I said as a statement of fact rather than an excuse Meath have been hit hard by a couple of key men that picked up injuries – the likes of Conor Gillespie and Kevin Reilly, the likes of Cillian (O’Sullivan). Cillian is back and he’s a real leader and he’s a real hunger to play for the county and lead up-front.”
Meath were in control of the game after the first quarter, leading 0-7 to 0-2, before they failed to score for almost 20 minutes. Their three points in the closing stages of the half ensured a 0-10 to 1-3 lead but a Robbie Smyth goal in the 28th minute, the culmination of a series of hand-passes, undid some of their earlier good work.
Meath, though, regained their dominance in kick-outs and remained three points ahead when Newman set up O’Sullivan for the goal that put them beyond Longford’s reach. Two quick points from Sean Tobin and Reilly followed and Meath were eight points to the good.Donal Smyth had to be sharp to clear his namesake Robbie’s attempt off the line in the 62nd minute but Meath were hardly living dangerously such was their grip on the game and two Francis McGee points at the end put a better reflection on the score-line from a Longford perspective.
Their manager Denis Connerton admitted his players looked fatigued following their semi-final win over Dublin seven days’ previous. “We looked exhausted. I don’t think we’re that bad. Maybe we weren’t as good as what we looked last week either. (Our form) Lies somewhere in between the two performances.”
G Reilly (0-6); M Newman (0-4, frees); C O’Sullivan (1-1); D Lenihan, S Tobin (0-2 each); D Smyth, R Ó Coilleann (0-1 each).
F McGee (0-6, 3 frees, 1 45); R Smyth (1-2); B McKeon, L Connerton, M Brady (0-1 each).
P O’Rourke; J O’Reilly, D Keogan, M Burke; A Douglas, P Harnan, C Finn; H Rooney, A Tormey; G Reilly, C O’Sullivan, D Smyth; C Downey, M Newman, D Lenihan.
S Tobin for A Tormey (44); P Geraghty for A Douglas (53); R Ó Coilleann for C Downey (57); M Battersby for G Reilly (inj), N Judge for P Geraghty, D Rowe for D Lenihan (all 68).
P Collum; CP Smyth, B Gilleran, F Battrim; D Masterson, D Brady, A Dalton; M Brady, B McKeon; D Gallagher, B Farrell, J McGivney; R Smyth, F McGee, M Hughes.
D McElligott for A Dalton (22); S Doyle for B Farrell (23); L Connerton for D Masterson, P McKeon for B McKeon (both h-t); B Kavanagh for D Gallagher (41); P McGee for D Brady (64).
B Cawley (Kildare)