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No Royal relief

THERE'S a theory about Meath, substantiated by an ever fattening body of evidence.

It states that teams who employs sweeper(s) and who break from deep with pace, tend to negate the implementation of what are considered the traditional values of Meath football, with which they persist.

The shorthand for that particular thesis is: Meath can't play against Ulster teams.

And the statistic reads that the Royals have now won just five of their last 24 League and Championship matches against teams from that particular province.

So there was a grim inevitability about their seasonal Calvary arriving against Armagh in Croke Park on Saturday night.

How else could you explain it?

Armagh were good, certainly.


Saturday was easily their most impressive performance of the summer and that style that looks wholly pragmatic and just a little dour in places like Omagh and Clones had a certain swashbuckling quality to it in Croke Park, even in the rain.

Yet Meath had loads of ball in advanced position but couldn't just pick the lock.

Take, for instance, their performance on kick-outs.

They won all but one of Paddy O'Rourke's first half bombs. Each one, launched to beyond the half-way line and frequently, towards Armagh's '45.

By the break, they had won 17 kick outs, to Armagh's six. Yet Meath trailed by a point and were lucky too.

In truth, Meath's existence in the Championship looked tentative, at best, but mostly flimsy as the first-half shuttled towards its conclusion.

Armagh stood six points taller (0-8 to 0-2), a lead which, given the conditions and the potential peril that accompanied spending any more time on the ball than strictly necessary, looked pretty safe.

Time and again, Meath looked for diagonal ball to Stephen Bray but found only the hand of Brendan Donaghy, on sweeping duty for the ball.

And then, for no reason immediately obvious, other than - we presume - some internal survival mechanism, it all clicked for Meath.

Mickey Newman nailed a pressure free which, had it been missed, might have killed the last of the Meath vital signs.

Almost from the restart, Damien Carroll bent one over from the Cusack Stand side of the pitch.


Then Graham Reilly, with his first touch, produced a point, a greater contribution in one move than the entirety of his Championship output to that point.

David Bray nailed a left-footed free and finally, with a kick of great height, flight and almost grandeur, Newman bent a '45 over the bar.

All that in four minutes.

It was as close to a winding punch in the stomach as Meath could possibly land.

Armagh's gain had been methodical and gradual, based on the principles of perpetual motion. An incessant determination to turn their possession into scores.

And Meath just went and wiped it in four short minutes. A brief display of the potential of this team.

Yet Armagh's pace from behind the ball, the likes of Aaron Kernan and Aidan Forker, and their calmness in possession dissected Meath too easily.

Andy Mallon was brilliant on Stephen Bray. Kevin Dyas played the 'link' role superbly. And, in keeping with tradition, Meath just couldn't kick, run or think their way through the traffic.

Special mention for Donal Keogan, Meath's corner-back, who not only held Jamie Clarke to a point, but was possibly their most effective player in possession too.

Armagh's reaction to being back in the big time? Who knows.

Their ban on media continues but at this stage, even if the original gripe was was constructed upon flaky justification, they'd probably be stupid to change it.

They're winning. And, it seems, a little at odds with the world.

Yup....Armagh are back.