Saturday 22 October 2016

Colm O'Rourke: Early hopes give way to more Royal upheaval

It was far too easy for Laois to put Meath away after Keoghan's injury writes Colm O'Rourke

Published 29/07/2012 | 17:00

Only a few months ago Meath made a fresh start with the introduction of a lot of new players but by the end of this game, a lot of the players who had shown promise against Kildare had been substituted.

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This shows they need a lot more time to be ready for this type of battle. They need to muscle-up for the demands of modern day inter-county football.

The foundations of the Laois win were set down early, with a dominant midfield performance for most of the first half.

They were more physical, well organised and were able to break quickly out of all the scrums around the midfield and kick some beautiful long range points.

Meath were struggling with a short-passing game and Brendan Quigley and Colm Begley, at that stage, were controlling midfield and the half-back line, mopping up a lot of the breaks. Meath, for the final part of the first half, couldn't get the ball forward at all.

Laois didn't put Meath away in the first half and the lead looked manageable from a Meath point of view coming up to the break. Even though Laois were playing with a strong wind, they were only three points up. But then Meath suffered a double blow in the closing minutes as first of all David Gallagher, the Meath goalkeeper, messed-up a clearance and then fouled for a penalty, which Ross Munnelly put away superbly.

But even more importantly from a Meath perspective, Donal Keoghan, the corner-back who was outstanding again in the first half, had to go off injured -- and he is an irreplaceable man marker.

Laois, who seemed to be struggling to put away Meath, ended up going in at half-time seven points up.

Whatever chances Meath had of getting back into the game, they were doomed at the start of the second half, with three quick Laois points from play. Meath ended up 10 points behind with 20 minutes to go.

From then on, we had the usual Meath fightback but the train had left the station and the goal Meath needed didn't come until it was too late. Several chances to break through for goal were cynically stopped by Laois backs, fouling when a Meath man came close to goal.

Even at that Laois had plenty of chances to put Meath away only for their forwards, who opened up the Meath on numerous occasions, to take wrong options.

In the end, Laois were hanging on which they shouldn't have been given their dominance of the game -- if Meath showed a bit more composure, they could have saved the game.

The better team won and Laois will be difficult quarter-final opponents.

Meath's season ends and a lot of the promise shown against Kildare and Dublin has washed away. Whatever happens with the management of the team now, hopefully it's done with a bit more dignity than prevailed in the last few years.

Last weekend's results ran along predictable lines, so all the best teams are still around for the quarter-finals. Even after a lot of energy has been expended, the cream usually rises to the top. The battles really begin next weekend and you would not have to be a genius to have predicted at least six of the eight still standing.

Last Sunday I wrote about the absolute unfairness of the six-day turnaround and while the CCCC had the opportunity to do something about it, they chose instead to penalise teams who got to their provincial finals. There was no good reason why the losers from last week should not be playing today and it is more disappointing still that the county boards involved did not tell the relevant body that they were not playing. So much for player welfare.

Of course, the Ulster Council are the architects of their own problems by insisting on playing only one championship match each weekend -- by playing two matches on the one weekend, they could finish a week earlier and save their provincial losers a big headache. But they do things their way.

On the field, Donegal gave a clear warning that they are serious All-Ireland contenders. There may be a question mark over the quality of the opposition beaten so far but the improvement from last year is obvious, and scoring as well as stopping, has become a part of their game. If they had trusted themselves a bit more last year, they might have been looking to retain Sam as well as the Ulster title.

Apart from a late scare, Dublin were clear-cut winners over Meath and the manner of their victory is great preparation for bigger days ahead. For a while in the second half they got very sloppy when in complete control and they got a cheap lesson. For most of the match I thought Dublin were much the better team but if it went on another five minutes nobody knows what the outcome might have been. If Dublin get into the same position again this year they won't be swanning around, ruthlessness is the supreme quality of a great team.

What must be worrying for Pat Gilroy and his advisers is how easily Meath were able to attack down their right flank for the last 10 minutes with numerous players getting into dangerous forward positions without any marking or tackling. The reaction of the Dublin players at the end seemed to indicate a team who were happy to win but very unhappy with having to hang on. It means that they will be the better for it in the quarter-final.

And as for the point that wasn't and then was, anyone sitting in the Hogan Stand didn't need a replay to tell them it was over the bar. Umpires and referees can make a mistake with the ball going at speed but from where I was sitting, there seemed no move from linesman Maurice Deegan to correct the error until it was shown on the big screen. The GAA may claim otherwise, but what is wrong with showing every incident for the benefit of all involved, it's hardly going to start a riot.

Many from Louth will feel that if the big screen flashed up the goalmouth incident from two years ago, the referee would have saved himself and everyone else a lot of bother. Nobody should be afraid of the right decision, no matter where it comes from.

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