Meath can look beyond DCU loss
ALARM bells need not ring in Meath after their shock O'Byrne Cup defeat to DCU, but manager Eamonn O'Brien has some concerns ahead of Saturday's NFL opener against Armagh.
A 0-16 to 0-13 defeat to the students took the gloss off two battling performances against the old enemy Dublin in the previous week.
The home victory over the Dubs in the quarter-final replay last Wednesday night gave Meath fans an early-season boost.
And while the crowd was smaller for the visit of DCU at a chilly Pairc Tailteann on Sunday, the Royal followers were unstinting in their encouragement, only to see their favourites lose the lead late in the match.
Once DCU got level at 0-12 each with five minutes to go, Meath were asked questions -- and they didn't have the answers. Points by Cathal Cregg of Roscommon (two), Meath's own Brian Sheridan, and Dubliner Paddy Andrews were answered by only one from Cian Ward.
DCU will face holders Louth in the final on February 21 at Drogheda in a repeat of last year's final.
In the meantime, DCU engage in their primary focus, the Sigerson Cup, starting with a first-round match against UCD tomorrow, while Meath look to the visit of Armagh on Saturday.
O'Brien and his backroom team will review the O'Byrne Cup performances, especially the DCU game, before deciding on a line-up.
Big guns Joe Sheridan and Anthony Moyles are unlikely to feature and Brian Meade is out after receiving a straight red card following a clash with DCU's Conor Rafferty.
O'Brien said: "Saturday evening against Armagh will be as close to championship football as you get.
"We have tested and tried fellas, and we've decisions to make now as a management team. We'll have to do that over the next few days.
"The young players are putting it up to the established players, and that's what we want.
"The more competition we have on the panel, the better. That will push other fellas on more."
O'Brien was clearly disappointed at the failure of his side to finish off the students, having dominated the game -- despite having two men sent off, to DCU's one.
Meade's dismissal after 29 minutes was compounded by a double yellow-card sending-off for Barry Regan five minutes before the end. Rafferty got his marching orders for receiving a second yellow card in the 59th minute.
Interestingly DCU won the game -- and also beat Westmeath and Offaly -- with an extensive rotation policy.
Their Sigerson campaign is the priority, and in Navan, manager Niall Moyna rested 14 players from the previous week's starting 15.
And if Meath take consolation from the fitness advantage that Moyna admitted DCU have over county teams at this time of year, they should note that exams have taken the attention of the students in the last fortnight, so their training has been curtailed.
Meath won't lose or win a Leinster title on the basis of their O'Byrne Cup campaign, but as O'Brien said: "Every time we pick a team, it's a team that we think can win a match. This was a game that we could have won."
Referee Derek Fahy of Longford was particularly vigilant in penalising hand-pass infringements, and he did well on the mark.
The fist-pass issue got a mixed reaction at Navan. It added to the stoppage count, but the ref is there to enforce the rules.