Mattie's delight as Cavan capitalise on Royal no-show
Cavan 2-14 Meath 1-12
What a difference a month makes for the suddenly cock-a-hoop footballers of Cavan.
In January they finished bottom of their McKenna Cup group after an inglorious campaign ended in a 21-point spanking by Tyrone.
Yesterday Cavan returned to the 'scene of the crime' - Kingspan Breffni - and gave their neighbours from Meath something of a footballing lesson in Division 2.
They won by five points and wouldn't have been flattered if it were several more. They played as a team; organised and defensively solid without the ball, cohesive and slick with it.
And, when the final bell sounded, they were perched atop Division 2 with five points from a possible six, peering down at a congested mass below.
As manager Mattie McGleenan remarked: "Probably people looked at us in the McKenna Cup and thought, 'where are they going or what are they doing?'
"But training was geared towards the end of January, to hit this National League and to hit it in a good vein of form.
"We've done that, injuries are starting to clear up, which is a huge plus to us right now, and the team is starting to play some lovely football. That's all I ask as a coach."
His Meath counterpart will be asking a very different set of questions at his next session.
Asked why they had been so flat to begin with, Andy McEntee replied: "I'd like to know. We've no reason and no excuses. It is what it is. We had a lot of ball at the start of the game… we just didn't do the right things with it."
It was all a far cry from Meath's previous cakewalk win over Clare. They remain stuck on three points and the overall performance will do nothing to foster belief that they are finally equipped to reach the top tier.
"If you're not in the right frame of mind and not on top of your game, you're going to get beaten," McEntee stressed.
His players had no shortage of possession; but the ponderous, meandering nature of their first-half attacks played into Cavan's defensive trap.
On a soft pitch which rendered bouncing the ball a high-wire act, Meath made a multitude of turnovers and were hit fast and hard on the counter by Cavan.
With Caoimhin O'Reilly and Niall Clerkin each landing an early brace from play, they were 0-6 to 0-1 ahead by the end of the first quarter.
Dara McVeety, workaholic in effort and so clever in possession, then added a sweet point before Graham Reilly ended a 20-minute scoring famine for Meath.
But it proved a short-lived reprieve as Conor Moynagh was sharpest to react after Adrian Cole's 27th-minute point attempt rebounded off an upright.
Moynagh's low shot squeezed in via the post for the opening goal, helping Cavan establish daylight at the midpoint, 1-8 to 0-4.
Then, in the 44th minute, Cavan's artillery off the bench turned the screw. Gearóid McKiernan, making his first appearance in almost six months, fielded a spectacular mark before veteran Cian Mackey weighted an exquisite angled pass into the path of centre-back Ciaran Brady.
Brady had earlier excelled with his distribution and now he showed his finishing acumen too, squeezing his shot underneath Andrew Colgan.
Meath came straight down the field for Cillian O'Sullivan to be hauled down for a penalty. This prompted the obligatory neighbourly melee, ending in yellow cards for Killian Clarke and Bryan Menton (plus David Phillips, who had coughed up the penalty). It led to a long delay, but sub Donal Lenihan held his nerve to score.
Not that it mattered. The livewire McKiernan was denied a third Cavan goal by Colgan, while Raymond Galligan repelled Shane McEntee at the death, but a Meath fightback never looked remotely on the cards.
"I think we had nine men scored today. I'm absolutely delighted with that, it's a super, super stat," McGleenan enthused.
Here's an even better one: they actually had 10.
SCORERS - Cavan: C Moynagh, C Brady 1-0 each, N Clerkin, C O'Reilly (1f) 0-3 each, B Magee (2f), G McKiernan 0-2 each, A Cole, D McVeety, R Galligan ('45'), K Clarke 0-1 each. Meath: D Lenihan 1-0 (pen), P McKeever 0-3 (2f), E Wallace, G Reilly, C O'Sullivan, B Menton 0-2 each, D O'Neill 0-1.
CAVAN - R Galligan 7; N Murray 6, P Faulkner 7, D Phillips 6; M Reilly 7, C Brady 9, E Flanagan 6; K Clarke 8, B Magee 7; N Clerkin 7, C Moynagh 8, O Kiernan 5; C O'Reilly 8, A Cole 6, D McVeety 8. Subs: C Mackey 7 for Clerkin (ht), G McKiernan 8 for Cole (ht), J McLoughlin 6 for Phillips (52), S Murray 6 for Flanagan (54), T Galligan for O'Reilly (63), R Connolly for Magee (69).
MEATH - A Colgan 6; S Lavin 6, C McGill 7, D Keogan 6; B Conlon 5, B Power 6, S McEntee 6; B Menton 7, A Flanagan 5; J McEntee 5, P McKeever 6, G Reilly 6; B McMahon 5, C O'Sullivan 7, E Wallace 7. Subs: D Lenihan 6 for McMahon (ht), H Rooney 5 for Flanagan (43), S Tobin 6 for J McEntee (55), D O'Neill 7 for Conlon (55), C Halligan 6 for Rooney (BC 61), T O'Reilly for Reilly (63).
REF - C Branagan (Down).