Newman and Devine goals power Royal resistance
MEATH 2-13 ARMAGH 0-13
Every year in early summer, when they both enjoyed a more elevated status in the game than they have now, Meath and Armagh would arrange a behind-closed-doors challenge against each other in Páirc Tailteann that had a 'no holds barred' feel to it.
It was the perfect testing ground for what lay ahead and invariably it veered out of control.
This Allianz FL Division 2 match wasn't quite a throwback to those days and kept its discipline throughout but there was a manic sense to it nonetheless that helped to raise the level of physical engagement until Meath finally got to control the tempo and manage their possession better in the last 10 minutes.
A driving wind that blew towards the town end goals had a huge influence, first helping Meath to build a nine-point interval advantage, 1-9 to 0-3, before Armagh trimmed that deficit to just a point in the 56th minute.
That they didn't push on and win it from that position will be the focus of any analysis this week but perhaps the sheer effort required to chase the game down with such a high work-rate was the most telling factor.
There are only so many tackles a team can put in and when Stefan Campbell, Jemar Hall and Ryan McShane made way down the final stretch, Armagh's attack definitely lost some of its edge.
The nature of this division and the results from other venues condenses all eight teams to within just three points after three rounds. Every game then felt like a four-pointer, especially this with two teams at much the same stage of development.
So when Armagh pressed to within just one point, how did Meath manager Andy McEntee feel, having watched his side spurn a four-point lead in the closing stages in Donegal eight days earlier?
"I was very calm," he smiled. "Everyone in the place was aware of what happened last weekend and indeed not just last weekend but a couple of games over the last few years so I think in that regard you would have to give the players even more credit, they sorted it out on the pitch themselves.
"It was totally out of my control, the players have to take charge of it out there. They changed the pattern of play, we started to slow the ball down, we held on to it, we waited for the right opportunity to attack and we talked about getting frees at the right time and making sure we executed," he said.
The point they got on 60 minutes to break the cycle of Armagh dominance involved a patient build-up that invited the visitors to foul Donal Keogan for Mickey Newman to convert.
Keogan did it again four minutes later, offering Newman an opportunity to extend the lead and with Thomas O'Reilly adding a first home point from play in the half and substitute Ethan Devine batting in a goal after he had chased down a lost cause from a stray Graham Reilly shot at the end, the points were safe. Keogan's move to one of the wings on the half-back line had been pivotal in that push, allowing him to get forward more.
Meath had laid firm groundwork in the opening half with their work-rate, turning over Armagh time and time again and benefiting from a Newman penalty after O'Reilly was fouled at the end of a productive move.
Their last point of the half underlined that. Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney was ready to trap a ball going out for a sideline to his team when Cillian O'Sullivan lunged to keep it in, prodding it up near the end line where Gregory McCabe kept it in but was then pinned in, conceding a free for Ben Brennan to convert.
But the hunters became the hunted from the restart with Stephen Sheridan and Niall Grimley coming strong at midfield, McShane and Grugan punching holes and full-forward Riain O'Neill winning good ball inside.
It looked ominous for Meath when they were hit for four points in seven minutes and Armagh kept coming as the home side struggled to play a possession game against the wind.
"When we had it back to two points we had six attacks in a row and were probably just a wee bit lethargic because probably the boys thought we were back in it. Against a team of the quality of Meath, that's going to come back to bite you, and then you add in the first half where we just made a lot of silly errors," reflected McGeeney.
"There was a good few positives in it as well. We played some lovely football for 20 minutes when we had the breeze, but there was just five or six small things that can come back to haunt you at this level that you would've got away with before."
McGeeney enjoyed the game though for its physical nature. "Any time you play Meath it's going to be physical. I was laughing at Graham Reilly talking all week about how physical Armagh were - I was playing against Meath a long time ago and I don't ever remember them being too soft.
"I like that type of football, I genuinely do. I know it was a game of two halves with the breeze but even watching Kerry and Dublin last night, I think that's the way football should be played. It depends what colour you wear sometimes whether you can get away with that type of tackling but I do think the game needs that. It doesn't turn into a possession game then, people can actually get the ball back in those physical tackles."
Despite not winning a game so far, Armagh are still just two points off the lead and have the suspended Jamie Clarke and possibly Ethan Rafferty to come back in over the next few weeks. Clarke was missed, especially with his ability to bring others into play.
For McEntee, consistency is what he craves but so far in the campaign they've found a groove with a settled team where James and Shane McEntee and Daragh Campion look to be enjoying their roles.
"Yes, we've had three reasonably good performances but we need to back it up with another and another one and another one."
SCORERS - Meath: M Newman 1-5 (1-0 pen, 5f); E Devine 1-0; D Campion, T O'Reilly 0-2 each; J McEntee, S McEntee, B Brennan (f), C O'Sullivan 0-1 each. Armagh: R O'Neill 0-5 (4f); R Grugan 0-4 (2f); S Campbell 0-2; S Sheridan, R McShane 0-1.
Meath - A Colgan 7; S Lavin 7, C McGill 8, R Ryan 6; J McEntee 7, D Keogan 8, N Kane 6; B Menton 6, S McEntee 7; C O'Sullivan 7, D Campion 7, B Brennan 6; B McMahon 6, M Newman 7, T O'Reilly 7. Subs: E Lynch 7 for Kane (52), G Reilly 6 for Brennan (52), E Devine for McMahon (64), M Burke for O'Sullivan (67), G McCoy for Ryan (70).
Armagh - B Hughes 7; R Kennedy 6, A McKay 7, C Mackin 6; G McCabe 6, J Morgan 6, A Forker 7; S Sheridan 7, N Grimley 7; M Shields 6, J Hall 6, R McShane 7; R Grugan 7, R O'Neill 7, S Campbell 7. Subs: J McElroy 6 for Campbell (61), J Burns for Hall (64), P Hughes for McShane (67), A Nugent for Kennedy (67).
ReF - R Hickey (Clare)
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