O'Dowd has no excuses for Royal horror show
Monaghan 1-18 Meath 2-3
ANY notions Meath fans had of a swift escape from this division had to be hastily revised after this abysmal league opener in Clones.
Their last league performance – the final-round loss to Louth last year which saw them relegated – may have been a costly one, but this mortifying display under new manager Mick O'Dowd could potentially do even even more damage to Royal morale. A rematch with the side that suffered the drop with them last season was expected to bring out the best in two teams tipped to bounce back up.
But only the Farney men responded as expected and Meath left with their tails between their legs and a week of heavy soul-searching ahead of them.
Monaghan, to be fair, showed all the benefits of their good run to the McKenna Cup final and, in Conor McManus, have a player in marvellous early-season form. He lit up the game with 0-6 from play in the second half and 0-8 in total.
But it was the feeble manner of Meath's capitulation that was most shocking and O'Dowd didn't look for excuses afterwards when it was put to him that his men had uncharacteristically thrown in the towel.
"We'd a few chances at the start of the second half that, if we had taken them, would have given us a bit of momentum, but from there on they just controlled the game completely," he said.
"A few heads went down, but not all of them. At this stage we're just going to have to have a long, hard look at everything. We'll be looking for big responses."
Meath are without a lot of marquee players at present, and started with just three of the side who lined up against Monaghan last year, but O'Dowd would not accept or make any excuses.
"Monaghan were probably more match ready than us, but I don't want to go down the road of excuses with this team," he stressed.
"There'll be serious talking this week. The management will reassess everything we're doing and everything the players are doing and we'll go at it again next Sunday (against Wicklow)."
It was grins all round from Monaghan and little wonder for, despite the surprising paucity of the opposition, they showed a high level of fitness, terrific appetite and an impressive work rate for this time of year.
What was particularly impressive was the way they refused to ease up when they had Meath on the ropes.
They only led by two at half-time (0-7 to 1-2), but Monaghan should have racked up a further 1-7, with Paddy O'Rourke forced to make a save from Kieran Hughes after just four minutes and Paul Finlay's follow-up coming off the butt of the post.
On the resumption it was one-way traffic again.
With McManus producing a masterclass against Donal Keoghan, the home side romped into a 15-point lead (1-17 to 1-2) before substitute Sean Tobin got Meath's first second-half score from a free in the 68th minute, and a late goal from a Conor Gillespie punt into the square then put a slight gloss on the scoreline.
Monaghan had heroes all around the park, not least their brilliant centre-back Darren Hughes, who on 48 minutes ran the length of the field and exchanged three one-twos with Neil McAdam to rattle home the sort of goal that most forwards dream about.
His younger brother Kieran did well up front, as did young Jack McCarron when he arrived, and they still have Tommy Freeman to return – he was listed among their subs yesterday.
League debutant Padraig Donaghy was among those who blocked and harried tirelessly and Dick Clerkin and Owen Lennon totally dominated midfield, where Joe Sheridan struggled. He did not fare much better against an excellent Monaghan fullback line.
New Monaghan boss Malachy O'Rourke clearly has them motoring well already and what delighted him most was their work rate.
"We'd a lot of things to iron out after the Tyrone game and we're especially delighted that they worked very hard as a team and for each other and had the right attitude today," he said, as Monaghan looked forward to a derby clash with Cavan next week.
Man of the Match: C McManus (Monaghan)
Scorers – Monaghan: C McManus 0-8 (2f), D Hughes 1-1 (1 '45'), K Hughes, D Clerkin, J McCarron (1f) 0-2 each, D Mone, G Doogan, O Lennon 0-1 each. Meath: J Queeney, C Gillespie 1-0 each, D Carroll, B Farrell, S Tobin (f) 0-1 each.
Monaghan – M Keogh 7; C Walshe 8, F Kelly 8, K Duffy 8; D Mone7, D Hughes 9, N McAdam 8; O Lennon 7, D Clerkin 9; G Doogan 8, P Donaghy 8, E Duffy 7, P Finlay 7, K Hughes 8, C McManus 9. Subs: J McCarron 8 for Finlay (50), P Dooney for K Hughes (56), P O'Hanlon for Doogan (61).
Meath – P O'Rourke 6; D Keoghan 4, B Menton 5, D Dalton 5 ; C Lenihan 5, E Harrington 7, S Crosby 7; J Sheridan 4, C Gillespie 6; B Meade 7, D Carroll 6, J Queeney 6; P Gilsenan 5, P Byrne 5, B Farrell 5. Subs: G Reilly 5 for Byrne (44), M Collins 5 for Queeney (44), C Rowe 6 for Lenihan (53), S Tobin 6 for Gilsenan (53), A Tormey 5 for Farrell (62).
Ref – C Brannigan (Down).