Changed times in Meath.
This time last year, Seamus McEnaney was staring down the barrel after two defeats and a solitary win, his brief tenure as the county’s first ‘outside’ manager already under strain in the face of performances that were as disappointing as the results.
It would get worse by the end of a league campaign that saw them avoid relegation by a whisker but ‘Banty’ always stood firm in his belief that he was there for the long haul — and he may yet be right.
Kildare may have consigned them to their first defeat in Navan on Saturday but only after a game of some distinction and one which Meath took down to the wire against a side that threatened to overrun them at times.
Some defeats aren’t as bad as others.
The pair drew level on eight occasions and it was Meath pulling the opposition back by their coat-tails for most of it, something they managed thanks chiefly to second-half goals from Paddy Gilsenan and substitute Donnacha Tobin.
Kildare were the better team but the hosts deserved a share of the spoils — only to be denied in cruel fashion when Shane McAnarney hit the post with a point attempt at one end in injury-time before Ollie Lyons punched over the winner at the other.
It was a disappointment deepened by the fact that McAnarney was fouled as he swung his leg for what could have been the winning score.
McEnaney looked at the positives. “Everything is still in Meath’s own hands at the moment,” he said. “Kildare are one of the best teams in the country over the last three or four years and I’d say from a neutral’s point of view it was a fantastic match but disappointed for us to lose it. I would be very encouraged by the performance but disappointed with the result.
“We rallied and came back at Kildare and were very unfortunate not to get a result but I’m not too disappointed because I think that was one of the best performances we have got in a long time. The performances are on an upward trend. The result is disappointing but the players gave me everything.”
Meath, however, are by no way perfect.
They were eaten whole in midfield for the majority of the first half and a team with a more honed killer instinct than Kildare would have hit them for a couple of goals but there is a better balance to them going forward.
A preponderance of beef up front that had given them a one-dimensional look has been addressed with the emergence of Gilsenan, who scored 1-2 here, and the presence of men like Stephen Bray, Graham Reilly and Seamus Kenny.
Most encouraging of all, perhaps, was the never say die attitude which seemed lost to them all too often in recent years.
Kieran McGeeney detected much the same spirit in his own side and it was badly needed after their opening defeats to Tyrone and Monaghan but, truth be told, a defeat here would have been disastrous given the amount of football they played.
And 18 points wasn’t to be sniffed at either.
If this was more like the Kildare team we know then a glance at the teamsheet confirmed why. Emmet Bolton and Andrew McLoughlin made their first appearances of the season from the off while John Doyle, Morgan O’Flaherty and Mick Foley all made first starts.
With Dermot Earley and Hughie Lynch back in training and engaged in full contact, relegation shouldn’t be a worry for a side that has Derry, Louth, Westmeath and Galway left on their schedule.
Scorers for Meath: P Gilsenan 1-2, S Bray 0-4 (3f), D Tobin 1-0, M Burke, S McAnarney, C O’Connor, C Ward, T Walsh 0-1 each.
Scorers for Kildare: E O’Flaherty 0-6 (3f), P O’Neill, E Callaghan, O Lyons 0-2 each, H McGrillen, M O’Flaherty, D Flynn, M Conway, T O’Connor, A Smith 0-1 each.
MEATH: D Gallagher; M Burke, K Reilly, B Menton; G O’Brien, S McAnarney, C McGuinness; B Meade, M Ward; S Kenny, G Reilly, C O’Connor; P Gilsenan, S Bray, C Ward.
Subs: D Tobin for O’Brien (25), J Sheridan for C Ward (39), T Walsh for McGuinness (48), C King for Meade (48), G Geraghty for G Reilly (67).
KILDARE: S Connolly, A McLochlainn, M Foley, O Lyons; E Bolton, M O’Flaherty, H McGrillen; D Flynn, P O’Neill; E Callaghan, J Doyle, E O’Flaherty; J Kavanagh, T O’Connor, M Conway.
Subs: P Kelly for Foley (34), R Sweeney for Flynn (41), A Smith for Kavanagh (52), C Fitzpatrick for McLoughlin (57), K Ennis for Doyle (67).
Referee: M Collins (Cork).
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