Sheridan inspires new boys as Royals overpower plucky Longford
An opening-day victory, which earns them an early-season crack at the Dubs, gave Meath the perfect start to the new season yesterday.
Despite last season's All-Ireland semi-final appearance, the Royals are still chasing a sponsor, but prospective backers would surely have been wooed by the decent crowd and competitive fare produced in sunny Ballymahon for this O'Byrne Cup first-round clash.
The performance of Meath's big centre-forward Joe Sheridan was worth the price of admission alone as he proved yet again that, to borrow a phrase from their Westmeath neighbours regarding their most famous son Joe Dolan, 'there's no show like a Joe show' when the Seneschalstown man is on form.
Jamie Queeney, at full-forward, impressively matched Sheridan's tally of 1-3 from play and, despite fielding an experimental side, Meath showed impressive early season cohesion and appetite. They were, admittedly, four behind at half-time (1-3 to 0-10), but that was largely down to Longford's massive first-half wind advantage, of which the locals didn't make enough.
Within seven minutes of the re-start, with the gale at their backs, Meath had pulled off an eight-point turnaround. Once Big Joe had wriggled clear of his marker to score their second goal in the 42nd minute to put them four clear, there was only going to be one winner.
The game fairly reflected the sides' differing league status. Glenn Ryan's Division 4 side, for whom Shane Mulligan, Dermot Brady, Jamesie Martin and debutant Shane Powell did well, were also severely restricted numbers-wise, with a plethora of injuries and 10 of the panel away on college duty necessitating call-ups for several U-21s.
Ryan had only six of the team who put Kerry to the pin of their collar last summer and was forced to play Brian Kavanagh at midfield, so he actually professed himself "very happy" with his team's gutsy performance.
The only real complaint either manager had was about the experimental rules. Ryan confessed he's not happy with any of them and the mark is certainly something that best suits teams of Meath's stature who, noticeably, had five of them by half-time, including a couple from towering midfielder Conor Gillespie on his impressive senior debut.
Royals boss Eamonn O'Brien made no secret that it is the closed-fist hand-pass that is bugging him and the change saw several of his players penalised yesterday.
"I'm just not in favour of any rule that it is not possible for a referee to call with complete certainty," O'Brien said.
One thing he was happy with was the performance of several inter-county debutants. Gillespie's Summerhill club-mate David Dalton impressed at corner-back and looked a real chip off the block of his dad Davy of Kildare fame.
Oldcastle wing-forward Eoin Gilsenan also did well on his busy debut, with numerous assists and a good point of his own.
But the newbies were, as always, well served by regular Royal dependables like Seamus Kenny and Peadar Byrne in the half-forward line and an excellent defence, where Cormac McGuinness stood out.
Jamesie Martin and Kevin Mulligan gave them trouble at times when Longford ran at them but too often, when the hosts had the wind advantage, they opted for the long, high ball into small forwards who were outreached.
With the wind, and Kavanagh's solid free-taking, Longford led by three points after 14 minutes until Queeney grabbed a good goal to level it but they pulled clear again and kept Meath scoreless for nearly a full quarter while going four points clear, with two great scores from Declan Reilly and David Morgan just before half-time.
But, ominously, Meath had two long-range shots off the woodwork before the break and once they took wind advantage it was largely one-way traffic and could have been more only for excellent Longford goalkeeper Damien Sheridan, who pulled off a great save from Gilsenan in the dying minutes.
Scorers -- Meath: J Sheridan, J Queeney 1-3 each, P Byrne 0-2, C McGuinness, G Reilly, M Ward, E Gilsenan, S Kenny 0-1 each. Longford: B Kavanagh 0-4 (0-3f, 0-1 '45), J Martin 0-3 (0-1f), K Mulligan 0-2, B McElvaney, D Morgan, D Reilly, R McGoldrick 0-1 each.
MEATH -- D Lyons; D Dalton, J Macken, E Harrington; C McGuinness, B Regan, G Reilly; C Gillespie, M Ward; P Byrne, J Sheridan, S Kenny; D Bray, J Queeney, E Gilsenan. Subs: G O'Brien for Reilly (57 min), C McGill for Harrington (62), N Mooney for Ward (62), S McKeigue for Sheridan (64), O Lewis for Kenny (66).
LONGFORD -- D Sheridan; S Mulligan, N Farrell, S Hannon; D Brady, J Nally, M Brady; B McElvaney, B Kavanagh; S Powell, K Mulligan, D Keenan; J Martin, D Morgan, D Reilly. Subs: R McGoldrick for M Brady (37), E Williams for Powell (45).
Ref -- S Carroll (Westmeath).