Bruce Springsteen’s Glory Days blared out over the tannoy prior to the start of this Allianz League Division 2 tie at breezy Páirc Tailteann yesterday and while that may have been a bit premature for the Royals there were some positive signs in this hard-fought victory.
There was also a minute’s silence in honour of the great Frankie Byrne who died on Friday, the last surviving member of Meath’s first All-Ireland title in 1949.
Meath haven’t played in Division 1 football since 2006 and how they yearn for a return to the top table. They are certainly on the right road following this fully deserved win as they held off Armagh’s second-half challenge.
The strong breeze which blew down the pitch into the town goal had a massive bearing on proceedings throughout. With the advantage of the elements in the opening half Meath opened up a nine-point lead by half-time.
However the hosts were under the cosh for much of the second half and their hopes looked perilous as Armagh reduced the deficit to the minimum by the 56th minute. Meath, though, held their composure and stretched the lead back out to three with two pointed frees from Mickey Newman.
They made the game safe in added time when substitute Ethan Devine prevented a Graham Reilly delivery from going over the endline and eventually finished to the net from close range.
Afterwards Meath boss Andy McEntee said it was important for this group of players to come out the right side of this type of game.
“It was in everyone’s mind that we coughed up a lead in Donegal last week so it was very important that we responded here.
“The players sorted it out on the pitch themselves. It was totally out of my control or the management team, the players have to take control of it out on the pitch and they did that. They changed the pattern of play, they slowed the game down, they waited for the right opportunity to attack and in that regard I would have to give them a lot of credit.
“A nine-point lead is nine points but we were under no illusions of the task that awaited us after the break.
“The second half was a reverse of the first and Armagh improved their game, they tackled an awful lot better, they turned us over much more. We were a bit disappointed with our play in the opening 20 minutes of the half but when we got to grips with it and started using the ball a little bit better and wiser we finished the game quite well.
“In this division if you win a game you can be on top and lose and you are fighting at the other end. That’s the beauty of this competition, every game is important, if you don’t turn up on any given day you are going to get beaten.”
The hosts made the best possible start in the opening half with four points inside five minutes.
Midfielder Shane McEntee opened the Meath account and Mickey Newman (free), James McEntee and Darragh Campion also added points.
The half was 14 minutes old before Stephen Sheridan had Armagh off the mark.
Meath then went almost 20 minutes without a score until Mickey Newman converted from the penalty spot following a foul on Thomas O’Reilly. Further scores from Newman and Cillian O’Sullivan followed before Rory Grugan struck for Armagh second point.
Meath then added three further points to lead 1-9 to 0-3 at the break.
With Rory Grugan, Rian O’Neill and Stefan Campbell excellent in attack it didn’t take long for Armagh to eat into the Meath lead. It was Campbell’s fisted effort that left just a point between the sides.
The home side though showed great resolve to halt the onslaught even if they were a little flattered by the margin of victory.
Scorers for Meath: M Newman (1-5, 1-0 pen, 5 frees), E Devine (1-0), D Campion, T O’Reilly (0-2 each), J McEntee, B Brennan (free), C O’Sullivan, S McEntee (0-1 each).
Scorers for Armagh: R O’Neill (0-5, 4 frees), R Grugan (0-4, 2 frees), S Campbell (0-2), S Sheridan, R McShane (0-1 each).
MEATH: A Colgan; S Lavin, C McGill, R Ryan; J McEntee, D Keogan, N Kane, B Menton, S McEntee; C O’Sullivan, B Brennan, D Campion; B McMahon, M Newman, T O’Reilly.
Subs: E Lynch for Kane (53), G Reilly for Brennan (53), E Devine for McMahon (64), M Burke for O’Sullivan (67), G McCoy for Ryan (70).
ARMAGH: B Hughes; M Shields, A McKay, J Morgan: A Forker, G McCabe, C Mackin; S Sheridan, N Grimley; J Hall, R Grugan, R McShane; S Campbell, R O’Neill, R Kennedy.
Subs: J McElroy for Campbell (61), J Og Burns for Hall (64), P Hughes for Kennedy (67), A Nugent for McShane (67).
Referee: R Hickey (Clare)