Sport Gaelic Football

Tuesday 23 January 2018

Royal rearguard need forward stars to start making a point

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Twice in the first half of last Saturday's second-round qualifier in Navan, the wily Galway forward Padraic Joyce found himself out near the sideline trying to burrow his way past his marker, Meath full-back Kevin Reilly.

Over the years, Joyce's ability to protect possession has been, along with his almost unerring accuracy and vision, the central plank of his game.

Get the ball to him and he will generally play games with opponents. When Joyce executes a solo, the gap between boot and hand is minimal, making it impossible for those opponents to steal the ball.

But twice in a matter of minutes, Reilly was able to use his frame and get a hand in to steal the treasure from the Galway talisman. On both occasions the tackles drew roars of approval from the crowd and helped to build quite a platform of territorial dominance for much of the first half.

Throughout the defence the same 'steals' were replicated by other individuals who made life difficult for the Galway forwards.

It was quite a performance from the Meath sextet, a much maligned group, who are generally acknowledged as the team's weak point.

Was it the 'northern' influence, as it might be termed, bearing fruit? Were all those relentless tackling drills now earning a return? The primacy of tackling is at the core of much of the reputation Paul Grimley has earned as a coach and here was tangible evidence of an improvement in that skill.

That platform should have established a healthier lead when Meath were in control, but it didn't. For the third game in a row, the Meath attack failed to construct a points tally that is in tune with their reputation.

Granted they have won two of those championship games thanks to the four-goal salvo from Cian Ward against Louth and the discipline of their defence the last day.

But 10 points against Kildare, eight against Louth and 11 against Galway is nothing like what's required if Meath are to lift a laboured game to the next level. Examining the winning scores accumulated in the 43 championship games so far, two of which have gone to extra-time, a few key pointers emerge.

The average number of points scored by the winning team in 27 provincial and 16 qualifier games has been just over 15. Add the value of goals and points together and the average is over 19.

In terms of the number of scores, the average winning accumulation of goals and points has been just under 16.5. Only once in their three games have Meath bettered one of those averages with a 23-point cumulative total against Louth.

Venues must be taken into account, as do the weather and mismatches. Kerry and Cork, in particular, were able to chalk up big scores against much inferior opposition and that distorts the average slightly.

But look at the 11 matches from the fourth round qualifiers on last season and a very definite picture of the number of scores required emerges. Every winning team accumulated 16 scores or more. Last year the Kildare squad lived by the '+16 -10' mantra which was regularly inscribed on their forearms as a reminder of the targets they had set for themselves.

The mantra was based on a simple premise -- to score more than 16 times and to concede less than 10. In their minds those figures were indelibly branded as targets to reach. In three of their last four games they achieved it. Against Down they fell just one short with 1-14. Only once this year in league and championship have Meath scored 16 times or more, against Tyrone in the last league match that helped to preserve their Division 1 status when they ran up 0-17.

They haven't got close in any games since or before with the 1-12 against Kildare and Sligo in the league and the 5-8 against Louth in Kingspan Breffni Park at the end of June their next best efforts.

Tomorrow night they can't expect goals to bail them out, nor can they hope to survive on the return that did them against Galway. They need much more from an attack that is top heavy with reputation at this stage.

Irish Independent

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