O’Byrne Cup champions for the first time in a decade after last Sunday week’s defeat of Longford, Mick O’Dowd’s side followed up yesterday with an ultimately convincing Division 2 defeat of an Armagh outfit that failed to trouble the scoreboard once in the second-half.
The visitors’ frustrations began to tell in the last ten minutes of a game played up to then in an impeccable manner: wing-back Aidan Forker saw red on the back of two yellows and Miceal McKenna followed with a black card in injury-time.
The ideal start then for Meath who are sequestered in the second tier alongside five Ulster counties and given O’Dowd has gone on record before to highlight the importance of escaping the clutching confines of their current residence.
“Every team in Division 2 should want to be in Division 1 and if you want to achieve things that’s where you need to be,” said the Meath manager who is at the base camp of a fourth season in charge of the Royals.
“We know that. But it’s such a competitive division this year that getting to six or seven points is the first priority when you are there. Hopefully you are there with two rounds to go and in with a shout of promotion. That’s how I’d look at it.”
As always at this time of year, this is a result that comes with an asterisk attached: the date alone gives pause for thought and makes any definitive judgments moot while the squally wind and intermittent rainfall played a determining role.
Add the loss to Kieran McGeeney of Jamie Clarke and a Crossmaglen contingent plotting another All-Ireland bid and this was always going to be a difficult assignment for the Ulster side, though they were aided by the wind at their backs in the opening half.
Meath, in contrast, profited from the return to the lineup of Ratoath trio Conor McGill, Brian Power and Bryan McMahon after their club’s All-Ireland IFC semi-final loss to St Mary’s of Cahirciveen in Limerick last week. Clubmate Eamon Wallace spent the afternoon on the bench.
The one downside for the hosts was the news just before throw-in that key forward Graham Reilly, a scorer of six points from play against Longford the week before, was a late omission due to what O’Dowd later revealed to be a knee injury suffered in that outing.
Armagh had three points on the board within five minutes and eight in total by the interval, all bar one of them kicked impressively from distance against a Meath side that actually left four forwards in the opposition half at almost all times in that period.
Though a contest between two counties with robust reputations, the half flowed seamlessly with some excellent football played and nothing in the way of rancour or angst. It was the second half before referee Anthony Nolan felt the need to reach for his pocket.
Meath finally settled with a point from the impressive Cillian O’Sullivan in their first attack and there were only ten minutes gone when full-forward Mickey Newman negotiated his way through the rearguard before finishing low into the Armagh net.
Even then it stood out as a score that would carry a worth way beyond the three points and all the more so when Ethan Rafferty shanked a decent goal opportunity well wide of the Meath goal nine minutes later.
The quality of the fare was highlighted by the fact that the first 11 scores all came from open play, but that won’t have been much consolation to McGeeney as his side sat on a measly one-point buffer with the elements against them on the restart.
Sure enough, the weather got even worse. A half-time downpour and stiff gusts made it difficult for both teams to find their range, but Meath went about their task methodically with wing-forward Andrew Tormey stationed as a sweeper to the disgust of some of the locals.
Three points in six minutes midway through the half from the effective Newman, substitute Sean Tobin and Donal Keogan stretched the Meath advantage to a goal and a further pair of frees from Tobin allowed the Leinster side to ease past the post.
An impressive show of intent from Meath, then, though the understated O’Dowd was keen to keep it in perspective.
M Newman (1-4, 0-3 f); S Tobin (0-3f); C O’Sullivan (0-2); D Keogan (0-1);
M McKenna and G McParland (both 0-2); E Rafferty, S Campbell, S Forker and C Watters (all 0-1).
P O’Rourke; M Burke, C McGill, D Keogan; J McEntee, P Harnan, C Finn; A Tormey, H Rooney; D Smyth, C O’Sullivan, B Power; B McMahon, M Newman, D Lenihan.
S Tobin for Lenihan (41); J McElroy for Shields (51); C Downey for McMahon (52); R O Coileain for Smyth (66; A Douglas for Finn (73).
M McNeice; S Hefron, C Vernon, R McCaughley; A Forker, C O’Hanlon, M Shields; S Sheridan, B Donaghy; S Campbell, M McKenna, S Forker; C Watters, E Rafferty, G McParland.
A Findon for Sheridan and E McVerry for McParland (both HT); S Connell for Donaghy (52); N McConville for Watters (57); N Grimley for McKenna (72).
A Nolan (Wicklow).