Finishing touches a concern for O'Brien
IF a wry smile spread across the face of Meath manager Eamonn O'Brien's face when goalkeeper Paddy O'Rourke drilled his kick-out over the sideline to prompt the final whistle, he could be forgiven.
Just as the Royal County used the experimental rule whereby the game continues until the ball goes dead to see off Dublin in the O'Byrne Cup, O'Rourke was shrewd enough to realise that by putting the ball dead after Armagh had cut the gap to the minimum, Meath could cash in their chips and get their league campaign off to a winning start.
It wasn't one of their great escapes but, given that Meath went periods of 16 and 23 minutes in either half without a score, Armagh will be wondering how they left this behind.
Goals at the beginning of each half sealed the issue in Meath's favour in Navan on Saturday. Stephen Bray raised a green flag after just three minutes after Paul Hearty could only parry David Bray's shot, and Jamie Queeney continued his happy knack of scoring goals when he coolly slotted home just 30 seconds after the restart.
Meath had created further goal opportunities in the first half. Queeney opted to fist a point when a goal seemed on, and Peadar Byrne miscued badly when one-on-one with Hearty.
In between, Armagh had extensive periods of dominance. Ronan Clarke's absence was sorely felt as the Ulster side racked up six wides inside the first 35 minutes, but with Stevie McDonnell gradually finding his range, the Ulster men closed the gap to just a goal, 1-6 to 0-6, at the interval.
And after Queeney had extended the gap to six points, the Orchard side took over and hit six unanswered points from McDonnell (three), Ryan Henderson, Finian Moriarty and Joe Feeney to draw level with 15 minutes remaining.
Meath toiled to get back in the game and, thanks to the efforts of midfielders Mark Ward and Nigel Crawford and the classy Cormac McGuinness, they were never headed. The Royals had to rely on two late frees from David Bray to see them home, with Charlie Vernon's second point of the evening coming too late for Paddy O'Rourke's side.
"We're disappointed surely," said Armagh selector Donal Murtagh. "We did enough to win it; we scored 13 points and showed a lot of hunger, passion and desire. It's great to see that back in place. We had that a number of years ago and we were very successful. There is a lot to work on there. We can iron out a few things. If the players give us that hunger and desire, we'll be happy men."
O'Brien agreed that the long periods without scoring were a concern and that his side might have been fortunate to emerge with the spoils.
"In one way you might (say that) but we dug deep in the second half and defended very well after getting the best start. They really did come back at us. We won a bit more good possession around midfield in the last few minutes and that saw us across the line.
"(The scoreless periods) are worrying in that we need to be able to take more chances that we create. But everything else -- the work rate and the tackling -- was very good and that's what kept us in it when things weren't going well.
"We had one or two chances to put seven points in it and once we didn't, Armagh were going to come back at us. Fair play to them, they really put it up to us and it looked like we might lose that game at one point. From our point of view, it wouldn't have been a great game to lose."
Scorers -- Meath: S Bray, J Queeney 1-1 each, D Bray 0-3 (2f), C O'Connor, C Ward (f), G Reilly 0-1 each. Armagh: S McDonnell 0-6 (3f), R Henderson, C Vernon 0-2 each, J Feeney, F Moriarty, A Kernan (f) 0-1 each.
Meath -- P O'Rourke; N McKeigue, J Macken, E Harrington; M Burke, C McGuinness, G Reilly; N Crawford, M Ward; C O'Connor, S Bray, P Byrne; D Bray, J Queeney, C Ward. Subs: S Kenny for Macken (30 mins), O Lewis for Byrne (47 mins), A Moyles for C Ward (57 mins), B Sheridan for S Bray (71 mins).
Armagh -- P Hearty; A Mallon, B Donaghy, P Duffy; A Kernan, C McKeever, F Moriarty; J Lavery, K Toner; J Feeney, C Vernon, M Mackin; R Henderson, G Swift, S McDonnell. Subs: P Kernan for Swift (45 mins), T Kernan for Henderson (47 mins), M McNamee for Mackin (64 mins).
Ref -- G O Conamha (Galway).