Players get to grips with new rules without much fuss
As an exercise in assessing the new rules this was an unedifying evening in Portlaoise. Meath won comfortably, 3-11 to 0-6, against a Laois team which hung in for 23 minutes then fell away, conceding 2-4 in a seven-minute spell approaching half-time.
In the game's opening play, Laois' John O'Loughlin fouled the ball by committing the fourth consecutive handpass, but such rules-related fumbling was rare. Laois did it once more in the same half. Meath erred three times on the handpass rule after the interval.
Those kind of aberrations were forgiveable and the weather was so deplorably bad, with driving rain and high winds, that you couldn't be sure what was reliable and what was not. Players were understandably cautious about availing of the advance mark. Meath made three defensive marks, and there was little else that you would have said that differed from how Gaelic football is normally played.
Meath manager Andy McEntee has been using challenge matches to get his players acquainted with the new rules and afterwards declared himself reasonably pleased with how they adapted.
"I thought we coped fairly well, we got a little bit sloppy in the second half and we got caught on a couple of occasions taking the extra handpass when it wasn't really necessary," he said.
"We have been trying to adapt to it in training but it's different when you come into competition. But by and large I would say we had less breaches of the new rules than the opposition."
For a game increasingly governed by handpassing there has been an unusually mixed response to this latest attempt to encourage more kicking. Those who are sceptical worry that it will play into the hands of modern massed defences by removing some of the outlets available to players trying to find ways to cope.
There was nothing dramatic to see here. Both teams used short kickpassing where possible to conserve their quota of handpasses and neither side went for a massed defence, prepared to be more cavalier in their first competitive match of the new season, a few weeks before Christmas.
McEntee is less enthused about the advanced mark rule.
"On a dry day it becomes potentially a game of Aussie Rules," he said. "The three handpass rule, I could live with that. The areas of the pitch it's difficult to see it working in is in close to goals were there is a crowded defence. How you beat that is with quick hands."
Laois had more to be concerned about than the new rules. With the recalled Michael Newman, who missed last season, accurate from placed balls despite the deplorable conditions, Meath led 2-8 to 0-3 at the interval. They were a step ahead of the opposition who are preparing for Division 3 of the National League in the new year.
Meath adapted better to the wet pitch and trying weather, and two goals coming up to half-time left them home and hosed.
Laois were still on level terms after 23 minutes when James Conlon, one of Meath's lively debutants, put the visiting team in front and started a decisive sequence of scoring. In seven minutes they blitzed Laois with 2-4 without reply, taking complete control.
Conlon's point was the first of four points, with Donal Keogan, Newman (from a 45) and Daniel Quinn raising white flags. In the 28th minute corner-back Ronan Ryan went up the field and scored a goal after Laois spilled possession in the Meath half. Two minutes later Laois were stunned with a second goal, Quinn finishing at the second attempt after newcomer Scott Osborne had stopped the first effort.
Osborne was called to make an earlier save to deny midfielder Adam Flanagan a goal, although Laois should have pulled one back when Gary Walsh, their full-forward, gained possession with only the goalkeeper to beat but lobbed the ball over the bar nearing half-time. Newman closed the first half scoring with two frees, as the rain cleared.
In the second half Meath had a third goal when Thomas O'Reilly found the net in the 53rd minute.
Scorers - Meath: M Newman 0-5 (4fs, 1 45); D Quinn, T O'Reilly 1-1; R Ryan 1-0; J Conlon 0-2; D Keogan, D Campion 0-1 each. Laois: G Walsh 0-2 (1f); B Daly, E Lowry, D Conway, M Timmons 0-1 each.
Laois: S Osborne; A Campion, D Booth, D O'Connor; S Attride, M Timmons, R Piggot; J O'Loughlin, B Daly; M Scully, D Conway, S Byrne; E Lowry, G Walsh, P Kingston. Subs: D O'Reilly for Daly, M Keogh for Kingston & P O'Sullivan for Piggott (43); D Strong for O'Loughlin, S Nerney for O'Connor & N Murphy for Conway (50); B Byrne & R Hitchcock for Scully & Campion (64); F Crowley for Attride (65).
Meath: A Colgan; S Lavin, B Menton, R Ryan; J McEntee, D Keogan, G McCoy; S Tobin, A Flanagan; D Quinn, D Campion, B McMahon; J Conlon, M Newman, T O'Reilly. Subs: N Hickey for Conlon (inj, 30 mins); G Reilly for McMahon (47); C Magill for Tobin (54); T McGovern & N Kane for R Ryan & G McCoy (56); R Garry for Quinn (58); S Reilly & A Beakey for J McEntee & Colgan (64)
Referee: F Pierce (Offaly).
Sunday Indo Sport