Bray brothers put Armagh to sword
This was a splendid evening's entertainment, both sides voracious and full-blooded, both having their spells of dominance and times when they were up against the ropes gasping for air but never pleading for mercy. Like the best of matches, it kept you guessing -- you were never quite certain who the verdict would finally favour.
In the end it came down to two points from David Bray, both frees, in the final 11 minutes. By then the scoring had dried up but not the excitement. Bray's first stopped a run of six points from Armagh, who turned into a rampant attacking force after a first half in which they looked lost for ideas. Bray's score edged Meath back in front -- they were never led -- and his second in injury-time gave them a little more breathing space. Charlie Vernon's point in reply came too late to save Armagh.
It was a harsh sentence for the visitors, who fell six points down right after half-time when Jamie Queeney scored a fine goal. But they raised their performance spectacularly and Meath were shaken for much of the next 20 minutes. Stevie McDonnell led the way, scoring six points, three from play. The exertions required took their toll in the final stages when they needed scores.
Not helping Meath's cause was Cian Ward's shooting being a fraction off-kilter. By then Armagh could smell blood and when Ward was taken off after a loose pass lost Meath possession, the homesters were growing desperate. With great relief came Bray's pointed free, their first score in almost half an hour. Meath led 1-6 to 0-6 at the interval and were worthy of the advantage.
Over the course of the half their play was more coherent and while Armagh displayed some good approach play spoiled by poor finishing, they became ragged and lost their shape. Cian Ward located himself between Meath's attacking lines and the home team exploited the gaps inside.
They were helped by a mistake from Paul Hearty who failed to deal with a tame shot from David Bray three minutes in, the ball breaking kindly to his brother Stephen and he finished with ease.
That gave Meath a platform and Armagh were unable to reel them back in. The visitors, concerned about midfield frailities, moved Kieran Toner out to partner James Lavery for last night's league opener, with Brendan Donaghy restored to full-back, where he succeeded Francie Bellew two years ago. Meath moved with greater assurance for most of the half, save for a spell approaching half-time that yielded three unanswered Armagh scores. Novice full-back James Macken was hauled off on the half-hour, though, as Kevin Reilly, first choice for the position, recovers from injury.
Armagh began without Ronan Clarke, who failed a late fitness test.
Scorers --Meath: S Bray 1-1; J Queeney 1-1; D Bray 0-3 (0-2f); C O'Connor, C Ward (0-1f), G Reilly 0-1 each. Armagh: S McDonnell 0-6 (0-3 f); R Henderson, C Vernon 0-2 each; J Feeney, F Moriarty, A Kernan 0-1 (0-1f) each.
Meath: P O'Rourke; N McKeigue, J Macken, E Harrington; M Burke, C McGuinness, G Reilly; N Crawford, M Ward; C O'Connor, S Bray, P Byrne; D Bray, J Queeney, C Ward. Subs: S Kenny for Macken (30), O Lewis for Byrne (47), A Moyles for Ward (57), B Sheridan for S Bray (71).
Armagh: P Hearty; A Mallon, B Donaghy, P Duffy; A Kernan, C McKeever, F Moriarty; J Lavery, K Toner; J Feeney, C Vernon, M Mackin; R Henderson, G Swift, S McDonnell. Subs: P Kernan for Swift (45), T Kernan for Henderson (47), M McNamee for Mackin (64).
Referee: G O Conamha (Galway).