Reilly is catalyst in Meath survival
Allianz Football League Div 2
Seamus McEnaney's pre-match instruction to the Meath players was short and simple: "keep fighting for every crumb from start to finish and see what it gets you."
They responded to the challenge and were delighted to see that it got them out of a deep hole in the second half and into a position where the result of the Kildare-Sligo match would decide whether they spent next year in Division 2 or 3.
They were warming down on the Pairc Tailteann pitch when news came through Kildare had eked out a one-point win, leaving Meath and Sligo on three points. Crucially, Meath had beaten Sligo in their head-to-head, meaning the Royals were spared the indignity of dropping to Division 3.
It was most unusual that one win and a draw was enough to avoid relegation but Meath were very pleased to avail of the situation after a campaign where they reserved their most gritty effort for the last 20 minutes in the warm sunshine yesterday.
They trailed by 1-10 to 0-9 after Martin Penrose punched home a Tyrone goal in the 49th minute, leaving Meath facing a test of their resolve. The response was positive, as they outscored Tyrone by 0-8 to 0-4 from there to the finish. They actually led twice in the final five minutes but were hauled back on both occasions with Penrose's 72nd-minute point levelling it up for the last time.
Results elsewhere meant that while a narrow win -- the best Tyrone could have hoped for in the circumstances -- would have brought them level on points with Donegal, Laois and Derry at the top of the table, their scoring difference would not have been enough to secure promotion.
"It's disappointing. Division 2 is not where we want to be. We took nine out of ten points in our last five games which was fairly consistent. You'd be happy with that on most occasions but the bad start, dropping four points, doesn't put you in finals," said Mickey Harte.
The Tyrone manager was annoyed with referee Derek Fahy in regard to inconsistencies in his decision-making. He mentioned one incident where Kevin Hughes lost a free after retaliating while a similar offence later went unpunished on the Meath side.
"There's a lot of assessment going on but no consistency. Maybe there's too much attention to what's going on in the stand (the referee's assessor) and not enough to what's happening in front of the referee's eyes," he said.
Harte certainly seemed to have cause for complaint, not least over the failure to award Penrose a free late on as Tyrone surged forward. Ultimately, a win would have been of little value to Tyrone but defeat would certainly have cost Meath dearly.
"It's great to survive in Division 2 after what was a horrendous campaign at times for us. The lads showed great heart and resilience especially today when they really stood up. They kept coming back and I thought we did enough to win the game," said McEnaney.
Tyrone's early enterprise took them into a three-point lead after 19 minutes but Meath recovered to go a point clear in the 27th minute -- before closing the half two points down, 0-8 to 0-6. They had missed several good chances in the first 20 minutes through inaccurate kicking or under-hit shots, which were easily gathered by Tyrone goalkeeper Pascal McConnell.
However, it was clear that if Meath got enough ball through to Paddy O'Rourke and Joe Sheridan in the full-forward line, they could do damage. Even that pair were outdone in the second half by the excellent Graham Reilly who kicked four booming points from open play.
It's only five weeks since he underwent a groin operation and while McEnaney said he was, as yet, only at 60pc power, he was a class apart as Meath upped their game in the second half.
No fewer than 11 Meath players, including five of the starting six forwards, both midfielders, two defenders and two subs all scored. Tyrone's score spread was pretty good too with eight players hitting the target. Penrose was the most productive of all, landing 1-6 (1-3 from open play) while also being involved in the build-up to some other scores. Brian McGuigan also showed prominently and really is beginning to look like the creative force which made him so influential in the past.
Nonetheless, it was Meath who took all the satisfaction from this result as it signed off the League campaign on a high after some very frustrating performances.
"Look, one decent performance doesn't make you a great team, no more than one disappointing performance doesn't makes you a bad team," said McEnaney.
"The important thing is that we have survived in Division 2 and now we'll take things from here. You'd have to be very impressed with the spirit the lads showed today but then I never doubted them. I always knew it was there."
A quick return to Division 1 was Tyrone's target for this spring but it came up short, due mainly to the slow start when they lost to Derry and Donegal. A noticeable absentee from the Tyrone squad was Philip Jordan who was rumoured to have retired last week. Listed at No 18 on the match programme, he was not present.
Asked for a comment, Harte said: "there were other boys' names on the subs and they didn't appear there either." Is Jordan still a member of the panel? "He is yes," said Harte.
So he hasn't retired? "No".
Man of the Match: Graham Reilly (Meath)
Scorers -- Meath: G Reilly 0-4, P O'Rourke, J Sheridan, C Ward (2f) 0-2 each, S O'Rourke, N Crawford, B Meade, S McAnarney, B Menton, B Farrell (f), P Gilsenan 0-1 each.
Tyrone: M Penrose 1-6 (1-3f), A Cassidy 0-2, B McGuigan, M Donnelly, S Cavanagh (f), C Cavanagh, Joe McMahon, C Gormley 0-1 each.
Meath -- B Murphy 7; C King 7, G O'Brien 6, S McAnarney 7; B Menton 7, C Lenihan 6, M O'Sullivan 7; B Meade 6, N Crawford 7; S Kenny 6, S O'Rourke 7, G Reilly 9; C Ward 5, P O'Rourke 8, J Sheridan 7. Subs: P Gilsenan 7 for Kenny (44), K Reilly 6 for S O'Rourke (46), M Ward 5 for Meade (51), B Farrell 7 for C Ward (53).
Tyrone -- P McConnell 7; D McCaul 6, Joe McMahon 7, M Swift 7; D Harte 6, C Gormley 7, R McMenamin 6; K Hughes 7, A Cassidy 7; C Cavanagh 5, B McGuigan 8, S Cavanagh 6; M Donnelly 6, M Penrose 8, O Mulligan 7. Subs: Sean O'Neill 6 for D Harte (48), B Dooher 6 for C Cavanagh (54), P Harte 6 for Mulligan (61).
Ref -- D Fahy (Longford)