Banty hails revived Royals
JUST how important beating his former Monaghan charges was to Meath boss Seamus McEnaney was immediately obvious in Navan on Saturday night.
"Right lads, shoot!" he greeted the press afterwards, gleefully spitting on his hands and rubbing them together for emphasis.
That's a phrase he would have been brave to use last year when the Royals won just one league game in his first season in charge.
The pressure has only increased since, with his decision to make 39-year-old Graham Geraghty a player/ selector, so this early six-point win over his native county left 'Banty' delightedly loosening his collar.
You needed a strong neck to suggest that his side had won despite losing their way badly in the third quarter -- needing emergency midfield surgery, their superior bench and a late Shane McAnarney goal to seal it.
The margin was considerable but it papered over a whole heap of drama, not least Monaghan completely dominating possession in the third quarter but not being able to convert it after suffering a mortifying collective dose of the yips as they kept hitting wides.
But the Meath boss was jubilant after winning this fascinating clash with Monaghan, whose backroom now includes Eamonn O'Brien, his predecessor in Meath.
"Maybe we stood off them there for 10 minutes or so but we should have been further ahead at half-time and listen, there was six points in this game now, not one or two. It was a convincing win for Meath," he stressed.
"It didn't add pressure," McEnaney insisted of having to face his former players for the first time.
"My loyalties lay firmly in the Meath dressing-room tonight. The Monaghan lads are a fantastic bunch and will be better, but I'd a job to do tonight, to beat them.
"We've taken a right bit of stick and, in some cases, rightly so, but we feel we have a much better foundation for this year's league campaign," he added.
It was an all-action opener, with 16 scores in the first half, just one apiece from a free.
Meath's Donnacha Tobin produced a good save from Mark Keogh after 20 minutes, and then Monaghan got a fortunate break when David Gallagher looked to have a James Turley shot well covered until it took a wicked deflection off centre-back Shane McAnarney to find the net.
Meath reacted with four points without reply to go two clear to lead by one at the break, 0-10 to 1-6, and extended it to three soon after the break, when Joe Sheridan made his seasonal debut.
Their full-back line, particularly Bryan Menton and Mickey Burke, were solid throughout, and up front Graham Reilly and Stephen Bray were the main men, with Paddy Gilsenan also lively.
But when they lost Seamus Kenny to injury and Monaghan switched bustling full-forward Kieran Hughes to the '45, the balance shifted dramatically and Eoin Lennon and Turley took over in midfield.
Monaghan owned the ball for a quarter but squandered 10 shots in a row and when full-back Darren Hughes finally broke the sequence in the 50th minute, it drew an ironic roar.
Banty stopped the rot by whipping off both midfielders and Cian Ward and Paul Finlay traded excellent points to still leave just two points between them until the unlucky McAnarney, who'd scored that own goal earlier, applied the killer blow after 65 minutes.
Reilly, Sheridan, Stephen Bray and Cian Ward were all involved in the brilliant counter-attacking move that eventually saw the centre-back find the net.
As the clock ticked down, Geraghty took off his tracksuit twice but never got in and Meath were reduced to 14 men after Gilsenan got a second yellow, two of 11 (six to Meath) that referee Padraig Hughes waved in a pretty clean game.
For Monaghan, there was some hope in defeat but if their forwards don't improve they will struggle badly.
Eoin Duffy started well but faded and even Finlay was disappointing.
Four of their scores came from defenders, which raises questions about their overall balance, but Darren Hughes, Vinny Corey and Ronan McNally, an early replacement for hamstrung Colin Walsh, all did well.
Man of the Match -- Shane McAnarney
SCORERS -- Meath: S Bray 0-6 (2f), S McAnarney 1-0, G Reilly 0-3, P Gilsenan, C Ward 0-2 each, B Meade, J Sheridan 0-1 each. Monaghan: J Turley 1-0, E Duffy, Darren Hughes (2f), P Finlay (2f) 0-2 each, D Morgan, V Corey, N McAdam 0-1 each.
MEATH -- D Gallagher 7; M Burke 7, B Menton 8, G O'Brien 7; C O'Connor 7, S McAnarney 8, C McGuinness 8; B Meade 6, M Ward 7; S Kenny 6, G Reilly 8, D Tobin 6; P Gilsenan 7, S Bray 8, C Ward 7. Subs: J Sheridan 7 for Tobin (h-t), C Lenihan 7 for Kenny (48), T Walsh 6 for M Ward (57), C Gillespie 7 for Meade (61).
MONAGHAN -- M Keogh 7; D Morgan 7, Darren Hughes 6, C Walsh; D Mone 6, V Corey 7, David Hughes 6; E Lennon 7, J Turley 7; N McAdam 6, E Duffy 7, M Downey 6; P Finlay 6, K Hughes 7, C McGuinness 5. Subs: R McNally 7 for Walsh (6), D Malone 7 for David Hughes (h-t), S Gollogly 6 for Downey (h-t), C Hanratty 6 for McGuinness (50), D Clerkin for McAdam (67).
REF -- P Hughes (Armagh)