Saturday 24 February 2018

Meath pace too much for plucky Louth

But another failure to press on in second half remains a concern for vulnerable Royals

Louth’s Conor Grimes in action against Meath’s Mickey Burke during their Leinster SFC quarter-final at Parnell Park. Photo by Paul Mohan/Sportsfile
Louth’s Conor Grimes in action against Meath’s Mickey Burke during their Leinster SFC quarter-final at Parnell Park. Photo by Paul Mohan/Sportsfile
Meath's Cillian O'Sullivan fends off Patrick Reilly, left, and Declan Byrne. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Meath's Harry Rooney celebrates after the match. Photo by Paul Mohan/Sportsfile
Meath's Donal Keogan avoids Ryan Burns, left, and Eoghan Lafferty. Photo by Paul Mohan/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

The four minutes of added time had almost elapsed and Meath were four points clear when Donal Keogan and substitute Bryan McMahon tried to work their way out of the danger zone down the stand side of Parnell Park.

Meath 0-20 Louth 1-13

Red shirts appeared from everywhere to corral them. Meath eventually got a sideline and breathed a little relief but the message was clear - the result might have been gone but Louth weren't going quietly.

With Meath there is always that lingering doubt that if you stay with them for long enough they'll give you something back.

You could say they were comfortable but that's not always the way it felt during a second half in which they might have doubled their five-point interval lead but instead finished with a point less than they started with.

Meath have been making a bad habit of second-half fades to their detriment in recent seasons and while this is not in the extreme category of some previous setbacks it is, nonetheless, a concern. Especially with Dublin just around the corner.

Louth shipped three goals in the opening round a month earlier to Carlow, Meath didn't breach them once and that too is a concern given the number of clear chances they created, especially in the second half.

But at times they looked good, particularly on the counter-attack where the pace of Eamonn Wallace and Graham Reilly, and the guile of Cillian O'Sullivan, reaped dividends.

Reilly had an indifferent first half but came into the game after the break while O'Sullivan was a Championship debutant in name only.

His breaking from midfield, the precision of his passing and his all-round vision has given Meath a new dimension.

Conceding 1-13 here though equates to something far greater against Dublin. At times Keogan, Donnacha Tobin and Padraic Harnan made big tackles and interceptions but they were nowhere near as assured after the break as they had been in the opening 35 minutes when they built up an 0-11 to 0-6 interval lead.

Meath manager Mick O'Dowd put some of that down to Donnacha Tobin's withdrawal through injury after 49 minutes, citing his experience as a loss.

But with Tobin on the field, albeit after picking up a knock in the first half, Louth were still asking questions and had clipped the five-point interval lead back to two within seven minutes of the restart after winning three successive Meath kick-outs.

Louth manager Colin Kelly can be pleased with the attitude and application of his players. Remember this is a team that lost to Tipperary by 23 points in a qualifier game last July.

They were a shambles that afternoon and Kelly didn't try to sugar-coat their predicament.

Their rebuilding programme has been swift and, while never really coming close to a first Championship win over their Boyneside rivals for 41 years, they had their moments here and won some big battles at times.

Full-back Patrick Reilly was a dominant figure, wing-back Anthony Williams exposed Graham Reilly's defensive frailties with two first-half points while James Stewart and James Califf picked up their tempo at midfield in the second half as Meath collectively fell off the pace there.

Conor Grimes also got to grips with the physical presence of Mickey Burke in the second half but Keogan's lock down of the dangerous Ryan Burns was pivotal for Meath.

The opening quarter had been quite frantic but when it settled Meath were 0-6 to 0-3 clear, Wallace kicking the first two of his four points.

A well-worked, long kick-out presented Bevan Duffy with a point in reply but generally Meath were in control and stepped on the gas hard coming up to the break with three points from Mickey Newman (frees), Wallace again and Tormey for that interval lead.


Duffy was shown a black card by referee Padraig Hughes but Louth's second start unnerved Meath. They recovered however and got the lead out to seven but really it should have been in double figures.

A blistering O'Sullivan run from midfield presented Tormey with a one-on-one with Craig Lynch but he blasted over on 43 minutes. Newman drew a decent save from Lynch seven minutes later.

Overall, Meath lost eight of their own kick-outs but turned many of those they did retain possession from into scores.

Meath were 0-18 to 0-11 clear when Jim McEnaney, who profited from Tobin's departure, squeezed a shot past Paddy O'Rourke for the only goal on 64 minutes to trigger ripples of worry among Meath supporters in the crowd of 8,380.

O'Dowd felt Meath responded well to the goal but, as Louth continued to stay in touch, he was concerned.

"You always are. The last 10 minutes of Championship football, it's a dangerous time. I thought we stayed reasonably calm, won a couple of good balls, a couple of frees and showed a bit of maturity which we didn't do against Westmeath last year," he said.

Kelly felt Louth showed encourgaing signs for the future.

"The skill-set of the Meath players is no different to ours, just the intensity they played at and the pace they brought to it was probably different to what we are used to, but when we got to grips with it in the second half I felt we caused them trouble," he said.

He welcomed their persistence. "We've been in situations over the last couple of years where those game have been getting away from us to the tune of 15 or 20 points.

"We were getting heavy defeats. These are a different bunch. They don't accept defeat easy and they kept going to the end and probably a little bit more experience, poise, and composure, they probably would have got a little bit closer. Overall, no complaints, Meath were the better side.

Kelly is however angry that they have only six days to get ready for a trip to Derry.

"It's ridiculous really. It's totally off-the-wall stuff. To ask guys to go out six days after that, it doesn't make sense. We'll regroup as best we can, but for the people that are making these fixtures, you'd question have they ever been in a situation of having to play a match like that and go out and have to play six days later."

O'Dowd doesn't think Meath will have injured defenders Conor McGill, James McEntee or Brian Power back in two weeks's time. It's a vulnerability that Dublin will expect to punish after this.

Scorers - Meath: M Newman 0-7 (6fs, 1 45), E Wallace 0-4, G Reilly, A Tormey 0-3 each, C O'Sullivan 0-2, C O'Brien 0-1.
Louth: R Burns (3fs), J Califf ( 2fs, 1 45) 0-4 each, J McEnaney 1-0, D Byrne, A Williams 0-2 each, B Duffy 0-1.
Meath - P O'Rourke 7; D Keogan 8, M Burke 6, D Smyth 6; P Harnan 7, D Tobin 7, A Douglas 6; H Rooney 7, C O'Brien 6; E Wallace 8, C O'Sullivan 8, G Reilly 7; A Tormey 7, D McDonagh 5, M Newman 7. Subs: C Finn 5 for Tobin (49) inj, B McMahon 5 for McDonagh (56), D Lenihan for Tormey (63), S Tobin for Reilly (67).
Louth - C Lynch 8; P Rath 6, P Reilly 8, K Toner 6; A Williams 7, D McMahon 6, D Maguire 6; J Stewart 7, J Califf 7; D Byrne 7, J McEnaney 7, C McKeever 5; B Duffy 5, C Grimes 6, R Burns 6. Subs: R Moore 5 for Duffy (36) BC, O Lafferty 6 for McMahon (45) A Reid 5 for McKeever (52), J Bingham for Toner (57) 6, G McSorley for Byrne (68).
REF - Padraig Hughes (Armagh).

Irish Independent

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