Royals romp home after Carlow rue missing men
Meath 2-18 Carlow 0-9
This is turning into a good year for Meath and a fairly depressing one for Carlow. For the best part of half an hour Carlow were in contention despite losing leading forward Paul Broderick to a recurring injury after only 14 minutes, and already without a suspended manager, coach and quality midfielder.
But then in the space of three minutes, with two Meath goals, the match took on an air of inevitability.
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Meath have never lost to Carlow, and hammered them by 28 points only five years ago. While the gulf now isn't in those dimensions it is still clear-cut.
The spring brought disparate experiences, Carlow tumbling into Division 4 and Meath reaching Division 1, a leap last made by the Royals in 2006.
If Meath were sluggish against Offaly in their opening Leinster Championship match, that torpor did not apply here.
They started smartly, with the recalled Padraic Harnan outstanding as a defensive fulcrum and attacking force, even claiming one of the goals in the decisive spell before half-time that saw Carlow's challenge unravel.
Meath went four points up after 11 minutes, Carlow barely laying a glove on them, offering no attacking threat - with the usual defensive template on show. But they then grew into the match.
Once John Murphy opened their account in the 12th minute they began to improve and by the 24th minute they were level at 0-4 a piece. "For a while we got sloppy," said Meath manager Andy McEntee, "and they punished us and got some good scores."
But it did not last. Meath hit back with two scores on the bounce from Ben Brennan, and then Donal Keogan was involved in setting up goals for Mickey Newman and Harnan in the 29th and 32nd minutes. By half-time they stretched the advantage to nine points, 2-7 to 0-4, and Carlow must have known that their cause was virtually hopeless.
"The two goals in quick succession was the difference," admitted McEntee. "Suppose a team that plays like that it's difficult for them to come out and attack and in the end they were a bit more open than normal."
Carlow, with the worst disciplinary record in the recent League, saw midfielder Sean Murphy sent off on a straight red card in the 51st minute after striking out at Keogan. It happened right under the eye of referee Barry Cassidy and he was left with no option. From there it was a stroll for Meath, with Newman denied a goal from a penalty after a brilliant stop by Robert Sansom.
Further mishap befell Carlow with black card dismissals for centre back Daniel St Ledger and midfielder Eoghan Ruth and they head into the qualifiers in a fortnight with a serious task in raising morale. Meath can look forward to a Leinster semi-final against Laois or Westmeath with good prospects of reaching the provincial final.
"We were dealing with a lot going into the game," said Carlow coach Stephen Poacher after the final whistle, alluding to the suspensions which ruled him and manager Turlough O'Brien out as well as midfielder Brendan Murphy.
"Obviously, it wasn't ideal and to lose Paul so early in the game, if you lose your talisman, people probably don't realise the impact Paul has, even on the psychological side, it's huge. He was top scorer for us in the League last year. It would be the equivalent of Monaghan losing Conor McManus. And we're not helped obviously not having Brendan (Murphy) going into the game too."
He hit out at the severity of the suspensions, which included a 20-week ban for O'Brien and 12 weeks for both Poacher and Murphy. Recent appeals by the trio were unsuccessful.
"The suspensions were ludicrous," he said. "Well the punishment should fit the crime. I don't want to say too much about it but anyone who looks back on the video and sees what happened, all I can say is that it was laughable."
Bryan Menton was outstanding for Meath, kicking two big scores, and Shane Gallagher also stood out in defence. Harnan, unavailable due to travel for much of the last year, made a huge impact on his return with James McEntee unavailable due to injury. James Conlon came off the bench to score three points. But there will be harder days. The resistance by then had weakened considerably.
Sunday Indo Sport