Riled Royals extend relegation dogfight
Meath 4-14 Down 1-14
All around Pairc Tailteann is a picture of relief, nobody more so than Meath boss Andy McEntee.
The Royals left themselves in a win-or-bust situation after doing their best 'Jekyll and Hyde' impression throughout a sketchy league campaign with a series of contrasting displays, but here they completed part one of their mission to stay in Division Two.
For a side clearly devoid of confidence, a good start was vital and they couldn't have asked for a better one with two goals inside the first three minutes as they cut the Down defence to ribbons at every opportunity.
Donal Lenihan dusted himself off to slot home a penalty having been fouled inside the opening minute, while Graham Reilly was the benefactor of some unselfish work from man-of-the-match Cillian O'Sullivan when palming the ball to the net soon after.
That gave them an early cushion which the Mourne men could not reduce below four points at any stage, but it could have been so much different had Meath goalkeeper Andrew Colgan not made a fine stop from Connaire Harrison after just 15 seconds.
Swings and roundabouts, but when nothing less than a win was needed, the home side came up trumps.
"The consequences of not winning were huge, so you'd have to say relief there," McEntee said. "You'd have to be delighted with the players and the type of performance they put it in, they put in the sort of shift we've been looking for the last couple of games.
"The fact that everybody is a little bit edgy, myself included, to turn around and produce a performance when confidence is low is nice. It's not always easy to do it when the pressure is on and it was probably one of our better performances."
With the threat of relegation hanging over both sides, the stakes were high in this do-or-die encounter at the foot of Division Two but Meath aren't out of the woods just yet and must travel to Drogheda next weekend and get a win against a struggling Louth outfit.
"If we can produce a performance we give ourselves every chance. If we don't produce the performance we get beaten, that's the way it has been with us," McEntee said.
Down can still cling to the hope that if the Wee county cause a major upset against the Royals in their re-scheduled clash, they have the chance to retain their status in the second tier should they get the better of a Tipperary side which must travel to Newry with little at stake. Such a situation is "unfair" on Meath in McEntee's eyes.
"I have to say this whole set up with the current set of fixtures, I do think it's been a little bit unfair on us. We now have a situation where Tipp are travelling to Down on a Bank Holiday weekend. It's in our hands though," he added.
Buoyed by their early blitz, Meath assumed total control in the opening quarter with O'Sullivan running riot and Down's only score of the opening 20 minutes came from a Donal O'Hare free as they trailed 2-3 to 0-1.
Eamonn Burns' side gradually found their feet as O'Hare's placed balls and scores from Harrison and Caolan Mooney helped them gain traction but Kevin McKernan's black card before half-time was a big blow for the visitors who trailed 2-7 to 0-8 at the break.
A peach from the outside of Mooney's right boot in the 45th minute brought them back to within four but Meath were piercing holes through the Down rearguard and Paddy Kennelly took a point after being denied a goal while Lenihan also kicked a fine score.
Padraig McKeever fired their third goal on the hour mark but the Mourne response was instant with corner-back Anthony Doherty on the end of a sweeping move to hit the onion bag and leave a tense finale, 3-11 to 1-11.
It never materialised, however, with the Royals always keeping their opponents at arm's length and Seán Tobin left the result in no doubt with a thunderbolt deep into injury time.
"It's a little bit frustrating," McEntee said. "You throw in a performance like we did against Clare and then you see what Clare did subsequently and you wonder why we couldn't do that.
"We beat Clare by 14 points so what is the missing ingredient? Consistency is something that we've talked about for some time now and that's the challenge, to put another performance on top of this one."
Scorers - Meath: D Lenihan 1-5 (1-0 pen, 0-1 '45, 3f), G Reilly 1-2, P McKeever 1-1, S Tobin 1-0, C O'Sullivan 0-3, P Kennelly, B Brennan, B Menton 0-1 each. Down: D O'Hare 0-5 (5f), A Doherty 1-1 (1f), C Harrison, C Mooney, D O'Hanlon (2f) 0-2 each, D O'Hagan, K McKernan 0-1 each.
Meath - A Colgan 8; S Lavin 7, B Power 7, C McGill 7; J McEntee 6, D Keogan 7, S McEntee 7; B Menton 7, A Flanagan 6; E Wallace 6, B Brennan 6, G Reilly 7; C O'Sullivan 9, P McKeever 7, D Lenihan 8. Subs: P Kennelly 7 for Flanagan (half-time), J Wallace 6 for B Brennan (51), S Tobin 7 for E Wallace (59), B McMahon for McKeever inj (67), M Burke for S McEntee (70), T O'Reilly for Reilly (74)
Down - M Reid 7; C Flanagan 6, B McArdle 7, A Doherty 7; R Wells 6, N McParland 7, C Mooney 8; P Turley 7, N Donnelly 6; K McKernan 6, C Maginn 6, D O'Hagan 7; C Harrison, D O'Hare 6, R Johnston 6. Subs: A Morgan 6 for McKernan (black card 35), S Dornan 6 for Johnston (45), S Miller 6 for Donnelly and D O'Hanlon 6 for Flanagan (both 53), R McAleenan 6 for O'Hagan inj (57), D McKibbin 6 for O'Hare (61).
Ref- B Tiernan (Dublin)