O'Dowd vows to fight on as Tyrone rally sinks Royals
Tyrone 1-10 Meath 0-11
Mick O'Dowd confirmed his interest in staying on as Meath manager after his three-year term drew to a disappointing close in Omagh, as Tyrone guaranteed themselves another 70 minutes of football, and very little else.
There was no stirring response from the Royals to their shattering second-half collapse against Westmeath in the Leinster semi-final when they travelled up to Healy Park on Saturday.
Instead, a second round qualifier between two teams lacking in confidence descended into mediocrity with both sets of players looking like they were afraid to lose more than they wanted to win.
Afterwards, O'Dowd admitted he "wouldn't want to walk away" from a group of players who have endured far too many managerial changes as it is.
"In the past, that instability has hampered Meath's progress but it's up to the clubs in Meath to decide that," he said.
"This Meath team is doing all it can, in the context of having its most influential players sitting on the bench for the last two seasons.
"I don't think people who are so quick to criticise the team actually understand that. If they looked at any other county and took their most influential player out of their team…and that's what Conor Gillespie is for us.
"Maybe I haven't stated that publicly because it's so hard for him himself for the last couple of seasons."
Gillespie's knee problems have been one of many Meath injuries that O'Dowd has had to deal with. Even on Saturday, Kevin Reilly was unable to start, though he came off the bench to kick two late points, and Eamonn Wallace limped off after just 13 minutes.
Insisting that there had been "no hangover" from the Westmeath debacle, that they had simply come up short against Tyrone, O'Dowd hinted at underachievement but believes himself, Trevor Giles and co are best-placed to continue the rebuild.
"My goal has been to get Meath into the top eight and we haven't achieved it, but I think that's an achievable goal."
Meath captain Donal Keogan thinks so too, and urged the county not to revert to its default position.
"The first thing they do is jump on the manager's back but we have the best in the county there at the minute.
"Obviously Micko had a three-year plan and this was the year it was supposed to come together, but plans don't always work out.
"It's a building process and they (management) are building the right way and going in the right direction. They just need more time."
The game itself on Saturday had absolutely nothing going for it and will be quickly forgotten by those unlucky enough to witness it.
Seán Cavanagh kicked two points from play off either foot but after 27 minutes of 'action' the score was still 0-2 to 0-0, before Meath sweeper Donncha Tobin got their first point in the 28th minute.
Mickey Harte claimed the 2-10 Meath scored in the first half against Westmeath was enough to convince him of the need to set up his team so defensively.
The score was 0-4 to 0-3 in Meath's favour at half-time and Tyrone only scored one point (a Mark Bradley free) in 31 minutes either side of half-time.
Meath were still 0-6 to 0-5 ahead when Peter Harte converted a decisive penalty after 52 minutes.
The half-time introduction of Darren McCurry and, in particular, Tiernan McCann, turned the tie Tyrone's way with the latter injecting some much-needed pace and purpose to the Red Hands.
His strong, direct run through the heart of the Meath defence drew a foul from Keogan in the square and Harte converted it brilliantly to put Tyrone back in front.
Graham Reilly, Kevin Reilly and Bryan Menton chipped over points but Tyrone, who finally found some fluency in the last quarter, were always able to keep their noses in front with Ronan McNabb, McCann, Bradley and McCurry among their scorers.
Meath really needed a goal, but when Joey Wallace dragged his shot wide, it was game over as Tyrone survived to book a place in this morning's third round draw. Harte accepted it was poor stuff, but believes there is a lot more in his young team than they've shown in back-door wins over Limerick and Meath.
"If you can take advantage of staggering through enough rounds, then who knows when the switch will go on and we can play with fluency for a longer period of time. People will always rate how you perform in the championship and the jury is still out on how we rate.
"It wouldn't really be clever to be playing at the top of your game right now, because everybody knows it's very difficult to sustain that over a longer part of the season.
"If you hit peak form too early, then that can be a worrying thing as well, but I don't think we have to worry about that particular problem." Ain't that the truth.
GAME AT A GLANCE
MAN OF THE MATCH
Tiernan McCann (Tyrone)
He only came on at halftime but McCann made a match-winning impact. He won the decisive penalty, scored a point and his strong ball-carrying punched holes in the Meath defence. TALKING POINT How long can Tyrone survive in the qualifiers? They’ve been poor against Limerick and Meath but have shown this year they play better against better teams.
In a game devoid of highlights, Peter Harte’s excellently struck penalty was a memorable score.
Ciaran Branagan had little to do in a game lacking intensity and energy. The penalty and Darren McCurry’s late black card were good calls.
Tyrone 11 (7 first half)
Meath 6 (4)
Tyrone 22 (13)
Meath 16 (10)
Tyrone 1 (D McCurry 70)
Meath 3 (S Bray 6, B McMahon 26, A
Tyrone await this morning’s draw for the Round 3B of the All-Ireland SFC qualifiers, and will play either Derry, Tipperary or Galway. Meath manager Mick O’Dowd must wait for the clubs in the county to decide his fate.
Scorers - Tyrone: P Harte 1-1 (pen), M Bradley 0-3 (1f), S Cavanagh 0-2, R McNabb, T McCann, D McCurry 0-1 each, C McAliskey 0-1 (f). Meath: G Reilly 0-3, M Newman 0-2 (2f), K Reilly 0-2, D Tobin, D Keogan, B Menton, B McMahon 0-1 each.
Tyrone - N Morgan 7; A McCrory 6, R McNamee 6, C McCarron 6; R McNabb 7, Joe McMahon 7, P Harte 7; C Cavanagh 6, M Donnelly 6; B Tierney 6, R Donnelly 6, R Brennan 6; M Bradley 7, S Cavanagh 7, C McAliskey 6. Subs: T McCann 8 for Tierney (h-t), D McCurry 7 for R Donnelly (h-t), C McCann 6 for Brennan (43), R O'Neill 6 for McAliskey (62), C McShane NR for Bradley (70).
Meath - C McHugh 7; J McEntee 6, C McGill 6, D Tobin 6; D Keogan 8, P Harnan 6, D Dalton 6; B Menton 6, H Rooney 6; G Reilly 7, S Bray 6, A Tormey 6; E Wallace 5, M Newman 6, B McMahon 6. Subs: D Lenihan 6 for Wallace (13), K Reilly 7 for Newman (55), S Tobin 6 for Bray (63), J Wallace 6 for McMahon (63), M Burke NR for McEntee (65), B Power NR for Dalton (70).
Ref - C Branagan (Down)