'No regrets' as Royal rally proves to no avail
Meath 0-14 Cavan0-12: Allianz NFL Div 2
No matter which side you supported in Navan, there was no escaping the sense of anti-climax.
On the face of it this was an encouraging show from Meath. A two-point win over an emerging Cavan side, achieved without defensive totems Kevin Reilly and Donal Keogan, is a good outing.
There were sparks from Shane O'Rourke on a day that saw Meath recover from three points down to kick the last five scores of the game to win.
Still it wasn't enough and in Pairc Tailteann there was a palpable sense of regret as for the second year running, the Royals finished third in Division 2.
This time they were edged out on the head-to-head rule, on the basis that they had lost to Roscommon, but perhaps the real damage was done against Laois when a seven-point lead was squandered and Mick O'Dowd's men managed only a draw at home to the midlanders.
There were regrets for Cavan too. Manager Terry Hyland pointed out that they had four clear goal chances and didn't manage hit the target with any of them. It was that sort of day.
Between them, the sides managed 32 wides, with 17 of those for the home team. Defeat meant Cavan's chances of a second successive promotion also went up in smoke as Hyland rued his side's profligacy.
Coming into the home straight the game was there for the taking before things turned in a moment. Finely balanced at 12 points each with just over five minutes to play, Cavan punched a hole in the Meath defence. Cian Mackey was put through on goal but Donnacha Tobin did brilliantly to block his effort.
Meath raced upfield and worked a goal chance for Stephen Bray and he, perhaps cowed by some miscues earlier in the day, opted for a point when through to give the Royals the lead before Eamon Wallace fisted over the last score of the game.
The reaction of both sets of players at the final whistle told a story as news from other games filtered through.
"Our intention coming up here was to try and win the game and get promotion," Hyland said.
"It didn't work out for us unfortunately. I think they were two nervy teams. Possibly the occasion and the promotion was getting to the players on both sides.
"We probably had four goal chances that we didn't take and that was the story of the game as far as we were concerned. We were creating the chances but we didn't finish them."
Meath held a 0-6 to 0-5 lead at the break. As with the second half, Meath finished the opening 35 minutes strongly, with two O'Rourke points handing them the lead.
For Cavan, Martin Reilly had landed two points from play but he was one of a few players who could find their range as the likes of Martin Dunne, Bray and Gearoid McKiernan all hit poor wides.
The second half went along similar lines. The sides traded scores for much of the early part of the half but three quickfire points put Cavan 0-12 to 0-9 to the good.
At that stage a Cavan goal would have killed it and the maths might have worked out in their favour in the promotion race as it would have come down to score difference between themselves and Roscommon.
However, they were too wasteful with the game at their mercy. Michael Argue fisted wide when he had more time in front of the Meath goal than he realised, while Dunne also failed to hit the target when given a sight on goal.
It gave the Royals enough time to compose themselves and led by Mickey Newman, they hauled themselves back into the game. It wasn't enough to give them a return to the top flight that O'Dowd had targeted but he was keen to focus on the positives.
"It was a bit anti-climatic, but as we said before the game it would have been a killer if we hadn't done our business and other results had gone our way," said the Royals boss.
"We could only do control winning the game and it was only in the last five or six minutes that we sorted that part out, but we can't have regrets. "We had eight players making their first appearances in the National League (this season), five or six of them were out there today.
"We also got players like Kevin Reilly, Shane O'Rourke and Conor Gillespie back from injury so it has been a really good league in loads of ways.
"Compare it to two years ago when Cavan came to town and they destroyed us. There is an evolution to this team that we have to take the good from the league and not have regrets.
"It will be a tough Division 2 next year with Derry, Tyrone, Armagh and Fermanagh all coming in. We are learning the whole time, but I keep going back to the evolution of this team. The average age of the team today was 23 and they are mad to learn and are working incredibly hard.
Man of the match: Mickey Newman (Meath)
Scorers - Meath: M Newman 0-6 (4fs), S O'Rourke, S Bray, 0-2 each, J McEntee, B Menton, M Burke, E Wallace 0-1 each. Cavan: M Dunne (2fs), M O'Reilly (1f) 0-3 each, G McKiernan, T Corr, J McEnroe, N Murray, D McVeety, D O'Reilly 0-1 each.
Meath - P O'Rourke 7; D Tobin 8, C McGill 7, J McEntee 7; M Burke 7, D Dalton 7, B Power 8; C Gillespie 7, A Flanagan 6; G Reilly 6, P Harnan 8, M O'Sullivan 6; M Newman 7, S Bray 7, S O'Rourke 7. Subs: B Menton 7 for McEntee (26), J Wallace 7 for O'Sullivan (27), E Wallace 7 for O'Rourke (55), D Carroll for Harnan (68).
Cavan - J Farrelly 7; J McLoughlin 7, K Brady 7, R Dunne 7; J McEnroe 8, D O'Reilly 7, F Flanagan 7; T Corr 7, G McKiernan 8; D McVeety 7, R Flanagan 6, M Reilly 8; C Mackey 7, M Dunne 7, B Fitzpatrick 8. Subs: C Conroy 6 for Brady (ht), M Argue 6 for Fitzpatrick (50), N Murray 7 for McEnroe (52), T Hayes 7 for Dunne (58), J Brady for Flanagan (66).
Ref - B Cassidy (Derry)