The visitors to Páirc Uí Rinn yesterday contributed little to an opening period where they were hit for a dozen points and extremely fortunate not to concede two goals on top of that. Throw in seven Cork wides and the pressure endured by the Royals quickly becomes apparent.
It was roles reversed in the second period. Meath got their tails up and their opponents lay down. There was no balance to either team’s play. No resistance offered when the going got tough.
Cork had their foot firmly planted on Meath’s throat for a large spell – McEntee’s side went 22 minutes without a score after registering their opener, then they simply changed positions. In that sense, a draw was probably a fair result.
Cork are likely to argue otherwise given they held a 0-15 to 0-6 lead with 45 minutes on the clock.
This is the second occasion where Healy’s charges have thrown away a winning hand and with one win from five games – that at home to fellow strugglers Fermanagh, it is hardly surprising that they find themselves teetering above a trap door which would condemn them to Division 3 football in 2018.
Meath, for their part, are just a point better off. A decent scoring difference and a home fixture against Fermanagh next weekend, however, means they’re more likely to challenge for promotion than be dragged into a relegation scrap at the other end of the table.
“Both teams are in similar position,” said McEntee. “Both teams are a little bit brittle and a little bit fragile, mentally.”
This certainly rang true of Cork’s failure to protect a nine-point lead. This surrender of dominance was far more attributable to the manner in which they conducted themselves when the water got choppy than it did Meath’s movement and accuracy in the final third of the field.
Playing into the teeth of a strong wind in the second-half, the home side, 0-12 to 0-5 ahead at the break, moved further clear courtesy of two Colm O’Neill frees. Following as they did a superb Ken O’Halloran save to deny a Donal Lenihan goal, the Rebels were on the front foot. Kevin Crowley put in a tremendous block on a Lenihan shot and although Graham Reilly secured Meath their opening score of the second period eight minutes into the half, it was cancelled out by a breakaway move which finished with James Loughrey tapping over.
Paul Kerrigan and Mark Collins would have been disappointed with their respective wides thereafter, but it was Cork, led by Collins and Deane, who continued to set the terms of engagement.
There was nothing to suggest the dramatic changing of the guard which did ensue. They had lost Aidan Walsh to injury and Ian Maguire to a black card, but both setbacks arrived early in the first-half.
Lenihan (free) and Ciaran O’Sullivan got the visitors moving. John O’Rourke teed up Kerrigan for his second at the other end. They wouldn’t, however, bother the scoreboard operator during the subsequent 19 minutes.
Eamonn Wallace, Alan Forde and Donal Lenihan flung over three on the bounce. Then a goal from corner-back Donal Keogan. 0-16 to 1-11. Meath were rolling. Cork were rocking.
Another three-in-a-row from Reilly, Lenihan (free) and Sean Tobin pushed them ahead by the minimum.
“You could see Cork going back into their shell a little bit,” continued McEntee, “but that’s a combination of playing against a strong wind and we had everything in favour of us. If you stopped the game with 12 minutes to go and asked who was going to win the game, you’d say Meath.”
Colm O’Neill, Cork’s outstanding forward during the opening period with three from the dead ball and three from play, landed a pressure free to level matters. Barry O’Driscoll returned them to pole position. Mark Collins, though, dropped short a 30-metre free in stoppages and there was sufficient time for Lenihan to kick his fifth and ensure stalemate.
C O’Neill (0-9, 0-3 frees); M Collins (0-3, 0-2 frees); P Kerrigan (0-2); J Loughrey, R Deane, P Kelleher, B O’Driscoll (0-1 each).
D Lenihan (0-5, 0-5 frees); G Reilly (0-3); D Koegan (1-0); A Forde, B McMahon (0-2 each); S Tobin, E Wallace, C O’Sullivan (0-1 each).
K O’Halloran; K Crowley, Tom Clancy, M Shields; Tomás Clancy, J Loughrey, S Cronin; A Walsh, R Deane; I Maguire, M Collins, K O’Driscoll; C O’Neill, P Kelleher, P Kerrigan.
J O’Rourke for Walsh (8 mins, inj); C O’Driscoll for Maguire (bc, 20); C Dorman for Tomás Clancy (57); Barry O’Driscoll for K O’Driscoll (61), K Davis for Kerrigan (64); N Coakley for Kelleher (72).
P O’Rourke; D Tobin, C McGill, D Keogan; W Carry, B Power, P Harnan; B Menton, J Toher; R Ó Coileain, C O’Sullivan, A Forde; B McMahon, G Reilly, D Lenihan
E Wallace for Ó Coileáin (23); J McEntee for Power (HT); S Lavin for Carry (52); S Tobin for O’Sullivan (52); S McEntee for Forde (62); J Wallace for McMahon (67).
F Kelly (Longford).