Bryan McMahon goal seals victory for Meath in unconvincing performance against Offaly
Meath 1-13 Offaly 0-14
They have experienced enough provincial torture these past few years in Meath football to sense a disaster coming well in advance of its arrival.
And so it was today in Navan that the locals became agitated as Offaly opened up a four-point lead just ten minutes into the second half in their Leinster SFC opener in Pairc Tailteann.
You could feel the collective sense of dread rise with each Offaly point – seven of them in a row – as a three-point lead was wiped and the team that narrowly avoided relegation to Division 4 this spring began to dominate the side that finally achieved promotion back to Division 1.
Beforehand, all the talk in Navan was Meath’s route to a Leinster final, containing only obstacles of a perceived lower quality.
They will play Carlow now in the quarter-final, having managed to generate the scores they needed to achieve an unconvincing victory, with Bryan McMahon’s 63rd minute goal finally releasing the tension pent up by the Meath support over the previous hour.
The football had, until Offaly’s blitz, been mostly pedestrian.
Mostly, the first half passed without anything much happening at all.
After 20 minutes, Shane Horan – the Kilmacud Crokes forward who declared for Offaly earlier this year – sent a shot so wide of the posts at the hospital end of Pairc Tailteann, it missed the nets behind the goal and landed on the grassy bank into the arms of a young spectator.
With that, he took off, initiating a mass chase with roughly 20 other youngsters in pursuit, much to the amusement of everyone else in the ground.
It’s not overstating it to say that was as collectively engaged as the crowd was in the entire half.
Both teams lined out one-to-15 and each played a similar risk-adverse style, resulting in prolonged periods of lateral movement and low energy.
They probed and they prodded and they invited contact but the respective defenses wouldn’t be pulled out of shape.
Offaly were more physical. Meath had more pace.
Early on, the former currency seemed more valuable.
Andy McEntee, who cut a pensive figure at the start of the match, began to gesticulate more and more as move after move broke down.
Offaly led as late as the 28th minute of the half when Niall McNamee kicked his third free but Meath finished with the closest thing the first half had to a period of dominance, kicking four points in succession to establish a 0-9 to 0-6 lead at the break.
That seemed like it might be just enough for Meath to manipulate into semi-comfortable victory but within ten minutes of the second half, they were three points behind.
Offaly kicked six in a two – including two boomers from midfielder Eoin Carroll – and turned over three of Andrew Colgan’s kick-outs.
In fact Maughan’s team had the first nine scoring chances of the second half.
It took until the 55th minute for Meath to score their first point of the half, a Newman free.
At that stage, McEntee had already sent in five substitutes and Offaly were inviting the high press by cradling possession along their full-back line.
Oddly, the more frantic nature of Meath’s play seemed to give them an advantage.
They became more threatening off-script, stitched three points together and then, after a goal chance at either end was saved, Meath got the goal that saved them.
Substitute James Conlon skied a shot that dropped from a height between Offaly ‘keeper Paddy Dunican and the comparably diminutive Bryan McMahon.
Yet the Ratoath man managed to break the ball and reacted quicker, stubbing a shot into the net.
They saw it out, with Newman and Conlon adding points. But it was anything but convincing from McEntee's men.
SCORERS – Meath: B McMahon 1-2, M Newman 0-4 (3f), C O'Sullivan, B Menton 0-2 each, B Brennan, T O'Reilly, J Conlon 0-1 each. Offaly: N McNamee 0-6 (4f), E Carroll, P Cunningham, B Allen (1f) 0-2 each, N Darby, S Horan 0-1 each.
MEATH: A Colgan; S Lavin, C McGill, S Gallagher; J McEntee, D Keogan, G McCoy; B Menton, S McEntee; C O’Sullivan, B McMahon, B Brennan; B Dardis, M Newman, T O’Reilly. Subs: A Flanagan for S McEntee (h-t), J Conlon for Dardis (42), G Reilly for O’Reilly (50), S Tobin for Brennan (52), E Lynch for J Entee (53), P Harnan for Newman (75)
OFFALY: P Dunican; D Hogan, E Rigney, D Dempsey; C Donohoe, J Moloney, N Darby; E Carroll, P Cunningham; S Horan, A Sullivan, C Mangan; B Allen, N McNamee, R McNamee. Subs: S Tierney for Sullivan (55), J O’Connor for Horan (59 inj), P McConway for Carroll (65), M Abbott for R McNamee (66), C Carroll for Cunningham (72)
REF: M McNally (Monaghan)