Derry eased their relegation fears with a significant, if hardly stylish, victory over out-of-sorts Meath in Navan.
A four-point haul from captain Paddy Bradley — who continues to regain his old sharpness after cruciate trouble — proved decisive.
But it was a game that won’t live long in the memory as hosts Meath put up a feeble effort and, still, were only just about put away by last season’s Ulster finalists. The sides were level on five occasions up to early in the second half when points from Conleith Gilligan (2) and Caolan O’Boyle put Derry three clear.
It was a lead they would hold onto until the final whistle despite Meath creating chances to rescue the game but shooting 15 wides overall.
This was Meath at their poorest and there were few positives for manager Seamus McEnaney to take from a third straight defeat after a bright start to Division 2.
His repositioning of half-forward Graham Reilly in the half-back line, similar to the role Peter Harte has been playing for Tyrone, paid some dividends. But even that ploy was undermined by a series of wides Reilly kicked after surging runs from deep.
The harsh analysis from Meath’s point of view is that without the level of intensity they showed in their first three games, it was only the natural ability of Reilly, Stephen Bray and, at times, Kevin Reilly that stood out.
“It’s not rocket science,” said Derry manager Brennan analysing where the game was won and lost. “It was at five, seven, 10 and 12, those positions, that’s where we won that game. Last week, against Kildare, we didn’t play as direct as we did here. We thought Meath might be a bit porous in the middle and I think that was shown in the second half when we pushed on.”
Derry now have four points, the same as three other teams who are a point above bottom-placed Louth, but with remaining matches against Louth and Westmeath, they’ll fancy their chances.
The situation isn’t so good for Meath who must travel to table toppers Tyrone on Saturday night.
Should they lose, then it could come down to a battle with old rivals Louth in Navan on April 8 to see which one avoids the drop.
McEnaney gave his Meath players a rollicking after yesterday’s game and kept them locked in the dressing room for 45 minutes.
“Up until two games ago, our first three performances were at a very high level,” said McEnaney. “Our performances have taken a dip over the last two games. That’s very disappointing.”
McEnaney pointed out that Meath won 14 of the first 17 kickouts and they led by a point on a couple of occasions in the first half.
But Bradley was profiting from his head to head with Mickey Burke while fit again Patsy Bradley and youngster Blaine Gormley battled well on the wings for Derry. Gormley kicked a stoppage time 45m free to edge Derry into a 0-7 to 0-6 half-time lead.
Derry gradually took over around the middle after the restart and while Bray and Reilly tried hard in Meath’s attack, the rest were terribly wasteful.
They added another eight wides to their first-half seven while, at the other end, Derry were more clinical. Gilligan kicked two frees before an O’Boyle point to put them 0-10 to 0-7 ahead after 50 minutes. They never led by less than two in the run in and while Paddy Bradley faded as the game went on, it was fitting that their leader laid on the pass for Charlie Kielt to kick their last point.
Scorers for Derry: Paddy Bradley 0-4 (2f); E Lynn & C Gilligan (2f) 0-2 each; B McCallion, B Gormley (1 45), C O’Boyle, Patsy Bradley & C Kielt 0-1 each.
Scorers for Meath: S Bray 0-5 (3f); C Ward 0-2 (2f); G Reilly, S Kenny & B Farrell 0-1 (1f).
DERRY: B Gillis; B McCallion, C McKaigue, A McAlynn; C Kielt, M Craig, SL McGoldrick; M Friel, PJ McCloskey; Patsy Bradley, C Gilligan, B Gormley; E Lynn, Paddy Bradley, C O’Boyle.
Subs: E Scullion for McCallion 61, N Forester for Gilligan 65, E Browne for Friel 71.
MEATH: D Gallagher; K Reilly, M Burke, C O’Connor; C King, B Menton, G Reilly; T Walsh, M Ward; D Tobin, S Bray, S Kenny; P Gilsenan, C Ward, S McAnarney.
Subs: G O’Brien for O’Connor 19, A Forde for King 51, C Gillespie for Gilsenan 61, B Farrell for C Ward 67.
Referee: P Hughes (Armagh).
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