Legendary figures Colm O’Rourke and Bernard Flynn, in particular, have been teasing supporters just recently with their suggestive comments.
Firstly, we had O’Rourke saying this is the best-prepared Meath team heading into a Championship. Ever. Then former playing colleague Flynn revealed his belief that ‘Meath can do something at senior level this year’.
Flynn added the crucial rider, ‘I’ve seen enough now to suggest that Dublin’s grip on the province won’t last much longer’.
One thing’s for sure, it’ll take more than a four-point win over Division 4 opposition to convert the masses to Flynn’s way of thinking though this was progress all the same from Meath’s perspective. Their young side displayed power and craft, and maturity when necessary, to extend Louth’s 41-year wait for a Championship win over their neighbours.
In the past, Meath might have had one eye on a June 26 Leinster semi-final against Dublin, the reward for winning here, but that wasn’t possible this year.
The 2015 Championship was Meath’s worst since 2008 and coughing up a 10-point lead on Westmeath was a difficult stain to wipe away.
More recently, they surrendered big leads against Cavan and Galway in the league and when Jim McEneaney reduced a seven-point Meath advantage to just four with six minutes to go at Parnell Park, there were a few nervous Meath faces in the 8,500 crowd.
But there was a maturity in how Meath handled the closing minutes and that four-point margin remained between them at full-time.
When the dust settled Meath reflected on a solid first outing that yielded a particularly promising debut for Cillian O’Sullivan while the more experienced players did the bulk of the scoring.
Free-taker Mickey Newman hit seven points while Eamon Wallace kicked four from play and there were three each from Graham Reilly and Andy Tormey.
With Dublin’s awesome firepower in mind, Meath manager Mick O’Dowd will be most pleased that his defence looked solid until it was disrupted in the final 20 minutes by Donnacha Tobin’s departure with a foot injury.
Until then, they leaked just nine points, only five of which came from open play. Meath set up in orthodox fashion and were expertly led by captain Donal Keogan and centre-back Padraic Harnan while Tobin and Mickey Burke helped guided rookies Darragh Smyth and Alan Douglas through.
A positive afternoon then but a performance that will have Dublin furiously devising a plan B? Probably not.
“I thought the first-half we were in control defensively,” said O’Dowd. “We didn’t really concede any goal scoring chances. Our finishing was poor in the first-half. We could have got a lot more scores for sure.
“Donnacha Tobin’s injury was a big impact on the second-half. We had a good shape there until his loss. He’s very experienced and we don’t have loads of experience around our defence. He’s one of those players for us and he’d done a really good job on Jim McEneaney. But he got bad bruising on his foot in the first-half and then he got tangled up in a tackle after which had an impact. Hopefully, it’s nothing too serious.”
Meath found it easier to come by scores throughout the game but were wasteful too and aside from 11 wides missed two goal chances. Newman drew a terrific save from Louth ‘keeper Craig Lynch for one and Tormey fired over for the other when Dalton McDonagh was clear in front of goal.
Those mistakes just won’t do against Dublin. “What did we score, 20 points? You’d want to be adding a couple of goals with that,” said O’Dowd.
Dublin’s defence looked vulnerable at times against Laois and they will be attacked with real pace by Meath forwards Wallace, O’Sullivan and Reilly. There was little high ball into Meath’s full-forward line, a tactic some believe could unsettle Dublin.
Meath led 0-11 to 0-6 at half-time though their failure to kill off the game with goals meant Louth were able to get the margin down to two points early in the second-half and four late on after McEneaney netted. But, in truth, they never looked like winning and must regroup now for a testing trip to Derry in the qualifiers next Saturday afternoon, something that manager Colin Kelly is none too pleased about.
“Overall, in terms of our application, I can’t fault them,” said Kelly. “It’s been a long, long season and they have been dealt another pile of crap with this six-day turnaround.”
M. Newman (0-7, 6 frees, 1 45); E. Wallace (0-4); A. Tormey, G. Reilly (0-3); C. O’Sullivan (0-2); C. O’Brien (0-1).
J. Califf (0-4, 3 frees); R. Burns (0-4, 3 frees); J. McEneaney (1-0); A. Williams, D. Byrne (0-2); B. Duffy (0-1).
P. O’Rourke; D. Keogan (c), M. Burke, D. Tobin; P. Harnan, D. Smyth, A. Douglas; H. Rooney, C. O’Brien; E. Wallace, C. O’Sullivan, G. Reilly; A. Tormey, D. McDonagh, M. Newman.
C. Finn for Tobin (50); B. McMahon for McDonagh (56); D. Lenihan for Tormey (63); S. Tobin for Reilly (67).
C. Lynch; P. Rath (c), P. Reilly, K. Toner; A. Williams, D. McMahon, D. Maguire; J. Stewart, J. Califf; D. Byrne, J. McEneaney, B. Duffy; C. McKeever, C. Grimes, R. Burns.
R. Moore for Duffy (BC, 35); E. Lafferty for McMahon (45); A. Reid for McKeever (53); J. Bingham for Toner (58); G. McSorley for Byrne (69).
P Hughes (Armagh).