National Football League Division 2 North: Mayo 3-17 Meath 2-12
There was something for everyone after the first meeting of these two teams at MacHale Park in Castlebar for 57 years ended in a comfortable victory for Mayo in glorious sunshine.
Mayo’s third win on the trot saw them top the Division 2 North group and set up a promotion semi-final clash with Clare in two weeks’ time.
Meath, despite their first defeat of the campaign, took runners-up spot in the group and will now meet Leinster neighbours Kildare.
James Horan had resisted the temptation to tamper too much with his strongest available team, while Andy McEntee made eight changes to the side that had overpowered Down a week earlier.
In the end, Horan’s pragmatism paid off as Mayo’s first-half display of pace and power proved too hot for Meath to handle and the damage had been done by half-time — the home side led by 3-11 to 1-4.
A penalty from Cillian O’Connor and two goals from James Carr were the crucial scores in that opening half, and Meath were kept at arm’s length throughout an uneventful second half.
The Royals actually outscored Mayo by 1-8 to 0-6 in the second period as both managers ran their benches and the game meandered along in the balmy conditions.
“I was happier at half-time than I was at full-time,” smiled James Horan afterwards.
“Look, we won the game which is always good to do and we got to see some guys who were showing well in training. I thought we started the game well, built up a good score, and got a bit sloppy in the third quarter and gave away a lot of turnovers in the second half.
“But overall we’re happy with the result. We’ve Clare now in two weeks’ time and they’re an amazing team, with a brilliant manager.”
Mayo had come flying out of the blocks with the breeze behind them and they were three points ahead approaching the end of the first quarter. But Brian Conlon had the teams level for the first and only time on 15 minutes when he tapped the ball into an empty net after Rob Hennelly had denied David Dillon with a smart save.
Mayo picked up the pace after the first water break and Cillian O’Connor’s expertly taken penalty helped them to kick on and pull away.
A couple of goals in the second quarter from James Carr (the second on the stroke of half-time) meant last year’s All-Ireland finalists were 12 points ahead at the interval.
With the result practically decided, the second half was played at a very different pace and tempo.
Meath introduced Donal Keogan, Shane McEntee, and Padraic Harnan to bolster their effort, while Mickey Newman also made his long-awaited return from injury and kicked four points, three from frees.
The Kilmainham forward was making his first appearance for the county since the 2019 championship.
Mayo also ran their bench during the last quarter, in particular, with Aidan O’Shea making his first appearance since last December’s All-Ireland Final.
The Royals never looked like making a game of it despite some well-taken points from James Conlon and Eamonn Wallace.
The highlight of their second-half display was a well-constructed and well-finished goal from veteran midfielder Brian Menton in the 41st minute.
In truth, Meath’s cause wasn’t helped either by black cards for defenders Eoin Harkin and Conor McGill, with the Royals reduced to 13 men at one stage in the second half when both players were in the sin-bin at the same time.
“We were well beaten,” reflected Andy McEntee. “The two goals before half-time made it an uphill battle. We were considerably better in the second half but, at the same time, you’re chasing down a big lead and it’s not easy.”
MAYO: R Hennelly; E O’Donoghue, O Mullin, L Keegan; M Plunkett (0-1), S Coen, F Boland (0-1); M Ruane (0-2), D O’Connor; J Carney, D McHale (0-2), B Walsh (0-2); R O’Donoghue, C O’Connor (1-4, 1-0pen, 2fs, 1m), J Carr (2-1).
Subs used: P Towey (0-3, 2fs) for C O’Connor; C Boyle for Keegan; A O’Shea (0-1) for Carney; E McLaughlin for Boland; D Coen for O’Donoghue; J Flynn for McHale; T Conroy for Carr.
MEATH: H Hogan; S Lavin, C McGill, E Harkin; C Hickey, B Conlon (1-0), J O’Connor (0-1); B Menton (1-0), D Dillon; E Wallace (0-2), J Scully, J Flynn (0-1, 1f); J Wallace, D Campion, J Conlon (0-4, 3fs).
Subs used: D Keogan for Hickey; S McEntee for McMahon; P Harnan for Dillon; D Dixon for Campion; M Newman (0-4, 3fs) for Scully; L Byrne for Hogan.
Referee: M McNally (Monaghan).