What ambush? A convincing second-half performance, led by the Reillys, Graham and Kevin, put paid to thoughts of Meath’s season going from bad to worse.
Those of a Royal persuasion in the 7,350 Dr Cullen Park crowd will be reasonably happy with this return to winning ways.
Joe Sheridan was most effective at full-forward, shrugging off a missed goal chance early on to kick two points while laying off another three for Brian Farrell and one for Jamie Queeney.
Their untested midfield partnership of Cormac Gillespie and Graham Reilly worked a treat against a vaunted Wicklow centre pairing with Brian Meade also providing an excellent aerial option from wing-forward.
Besides a couple of Wicklow goal chances late on, they looked comfortable with their advantage even if Farrell, so dangerous in the first-half, was well marshalled by Ciarán Hyland from the 30th minute.
After Leighton Glynn had left the field in agony with a serious ankle injury, Wicklow had no answer to Graham Reilly’s straight running from midfield and frustrated James Stafford’s second yellow card in the third last minute of normal time was just as convincing an indicator of Meath’s supremacy as their scoreline.
Yet 15 minutes into this game and with Meath trailing five points to no score, things didn’t look so rosy for Seamus McEnaney’s men.
McEnaney afterwards put the sluggish start down to the quarter of Championship debutants in the team but there might have been a little hangover from that oh so forgettable Division 2 campaign.
Wicklow were reaping plenty with the wind at their backs and Stafford was kicking towards his full-forward line on sight.
John McGrath had two points to his name by the third minute and Hannon had a couple of frees to his credit shortly afterwards.
The second of those came after Seamus Kenny had injured himself fouling Seanie Furlong, a challenge that forced the Meath captain to hobble off the field a few minutes later.
A sloppy Kevin Reilly hand-pass provided Stephen Byrne with a handy point as Meath looked shell-shocked.
Sheridan brought them out of their funk with an assist for Farrell and a score of his own.
Earlier in the 12th minute he had been denied a goal by John Flynn having gathered the deflection from Graham Reilly’s shot which had hit the post.
Hannon, from a 45, and Furlong, from a free, put five between the sides again before Mark Collins pointed and Farrell grabbed a quick brace with some help from Sheridan on each occasion.
Wicklow’s last point of the half came in the 31st minute through McGrath.
Meath finished stronger, Alan Forde fisting and Graham Reilly kicking points to leave one between the teams, 0-8 to 0-7.
Reilly started the second-half where he left off, breaking forward from the resumption to level the scores.
Glynn’s entanglement with Ward, which saw the former eventually stretchered off, provided the latter with an easy free to give McEnaney’s team the lead for the first time. They never let go of it for the remainder of the game, Reilly converting three chances on the bounce to give his side a three-point cushion by the 51st minute.
Unlike Wicklow when they had the wind, Meath preferred to move the ball through the hands quickly with support runners.
Glynn’s lengthy injury meant there would be plenty of time for Wicklow to come back — an additional eight minutes were played in the end — but they failed to use it.
They recorded just three points in the second-half, the second of them Hannon’s 56th minute free cancelled out by Farrell’s fourth three minutes later.
David Gallagher was diligent enough to deny Conor McGraynor a goal at a crucial stage but Stafford’s dismissal was damaging.
Substitute Queeney kicked his first of two points two minutes into injury-time and although Peadar Burke had another Wicklow goal attempt denied by a deflection, which Hannon followed up with a 45, Sheridan and Queeney finished proceedings off in style.
Ambush, it definitely was not but redemption? Not that either.
Just the first step on a long road.
Scorers for Meath: G Reilly 0-5; B Farrell 0-4; J Sheridan, J Queeney 0-2 each; M Collins, A Forde, C Ward (free) 0-1 each.
Scorers for Wicklow: T Hannon (3f, 2 45) 0-5; J McGrath 0-3; S Byrne, S Furlong, R Finn 0-1 each.
Subs for Meath: D Keogan for Kenny (inj 10); J Queeney for Collins (55); P Byrne for G Reilly (inj 64); B Sheridan for Ward (70); D Carroll for Forde (74).
Subs for Wicklow: P Burke for O’Sullivan (h-t); P Earls for Glynn (inj 42); N Gaffney for Byrne (48); C McGraynor for McGrath (53); J Bolger for Byrne (60).
Red card: J Stafford (67, second yellow).
Referee: Padraig Hughes (Armagh)
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