Misfiring Royal need miracle to avoid drop
When Seamus McEnaney still hadn't emerged long after this fiasco ended, and a car was reversed up to the Meath dressing-room door, some of the waiting press speculated it had been lined up to offer him a quick getaway.
However much pressure the Meath manager was under it multiplied further in Derry yesterday and the Royals now need a miracle in the final round to escape the drop to Division 3 football. To borrow a phrase from economics, his team and management were stress-tested again in Celtic Park yesterday and failed dismally.
Meath's relegation fears lifted initially when, despite playing into the teeth of a gale, they led by two points at half-time (2-5 to 0-9) thanks to two Joe Sheridan goals inside four minutes, the first after a lucky bounce.
Yet somehow they managed to throw away that lead and big wind advantage, scoring a paltry 1-3 after the break; only their goal come from play.
A refusal to cave in and an ability to pull lost games out of the fire used to be the Royals' trademark but it was Derry who did the Lazarus imitation yesterday, grabbing 1-9 after the break to bravely keep their promotion hopes alive and leave McEnaney virtually speechless with disgust.
"After 22 minutes we were six points up despite a gale force wind and in a serious position to win this game. Jesus, I just don't know where we went in that second-half!" he exclaimed. "It's wild disappointing, probably the most disappointing half-hour's football I've ever managed.
"We felt we'd played well against Kildare and didn't get a result but we'd worked really hard in training and the first half was reward for that but after that... we're all bitterly disappointed, we've no excuses."
To survive, Meath must now beat Tyrone and hope other results go their way, a situation McEnaney described as "a hole we're in".
"I didn't think it would come to that but, if it comes to the last kick of the game, in the dying seconds in Navan, for Meath to survive in Division 2 then I'll take that," he said.
"But today was an opportunity to give ourselves some breathing space and we didn't take it."
Meath were rudderless in the second half, throwing big man after big man into the forwards -- including usual goalkeeper Paddy O'Rourke -- yet all seemed incapable of winning ball or doing the basics right. Shooting seven second-half wides (to Derry's one) and conceding twice as many frees (16 to 8) exacerbated their problems.
And defensively they lost their shape disastrously, allowing Derry to cleave them open at times, most fatally when Sean Leo McGoldrick slalomed through and goaled after 55 minutes.
A minute earlier Gerard O'Kane's second point of the match from wing-back had given Derry their first lead since the opening quarter and soon they were five up with as many minutes remaining.
Despite being less than perfect, Cian Ward's free-taking kept Meath in the game and when Sheridan had a shot blocked, the Wolfe Tones star slotted a great goal in the 68th minute to throw them a life-line.
But Derry showed commendable composure, with super-sub Martin Donaghy and a Paddy Bradley free grabbing two insurance scores inside a minute to close it out.
The winners, who have a huge casualty list which included Enda Muldoon yesterday, were far from perfect themselves.
Despite their big wind advantage they persisted with a short-passing game in the first half, when wing-backs O'Kane and Charlie Kielt and half-forward Mark Lynch did most of the heavy lifting. But when Derry introduced Donaghy, used McGoldrick as a sweeper, packed midfield and built from the back they were able to split Meath's surprisingly loose defence and Paddy Bradley also then got the better of Cormac McGill.
"We are down to the bare bones, our dugout was full for cosmetic reasons," Derry manager John Brennan revealed.
"But as long as we kept the ball moving it was our game in the second half. I'm still disappointed that Santa Claus still hasn't left us," he said of coughing up three goals.
"But we've a lot to come back into that team and will only get better. Kevin McCloy and Barry McGoldrick played through the pain barrier there today and I'm so proud of them all."
For Meath, nother serious post-mortem will follow after they squandered such a good start.
Graham Reilly was back starting after injury, county U-21 Mark O'Sullivan, a late replacement for Shane McAnarney, was busy at both ends of the park, as was Ward.
With Brian Meade and Nigel Crawford dominating midfield, Sheridan's two goals, however fortunate the first (which was a clear mis-hit), were a perfectly timed fillip.
But they flattered to deceive, went goal-chasing and took the wrong option far too often and crumbled like a house of cards when Derry ran at them.
Yesterday's loss continued a disastrous record of just one win in 14 away games, which indicates that the rot had started long before McEnaney's arrival -- but if it isn't stopped soon it is inevitable that Banty will take the brunt of it.
Man of the Match: Gerard O'Kane (Derry)
Scorers -- Derry: P Bradley 0-7 (4f), S McGoldrick 1-1, C Gilligan 0-3 (1f, 1 '45), G O'Kane , M Donaghy 0-2 each, C Kielt, M Friel, M Lynch 0-1 each. Meath: C Ward 1-5 (5f), J Sheridan 2-0, G Reilly 0-2, S O'Rourke 0-1 (f).
DERRY -- M Conlon 6; SL McGoldrick 7, K McCloy 6, D McBride 7; G O'Kane 8, J O'Kane 5, C Kielt 7; PJ McCloskey 5, M Friel 6; B McGoldrick 7, C O'Boyle 6, M Lynch 7; M Bateson 7, P Bradley 8, C Gilligan 7. Subs: M Donaghy 8 for J O'Kane (h-t), B Doyle for McCloskey (66), C McGoldrick for Lynch (72), L Moore for Gilligan (73).
Meath -- B Murphy (Trim) 8; G O'Brien 6, C McGill 6, C King 6; M O'Sullivan 7, B Menton 5, C McGuinness 5; B Meade 7, N Crawford 7; G Reilly 7, S O'Rourke 8, S Kenny 5; C Ward 7, J Sheridan 8, B Farrell 5. Subs: C O'Connor 5 for McGuinness (h-t), M Ward 5 for Crawford (55), P O'Rourke 6 for Farrell (57), P Gilsenan 6 for King (59), T Walsh for Reilly (66).
Ref -- M Deegan (Laois).