Tormey's steady hand lifts Meath clear of trouble
Meath 0-13 Kildare 0-11 Allianz NFL Division 2
The night had left the Meath manager Mick O'Dowd wondering what it might do for the career path of his young team. Would it be a turning point, some kind of fork in the road for them?
For too long the cycle of progress followed by regression has been all too familiar for them. It needs something more sustainable.
Meath have beaten Kildare in their last two championship meetings so essentially this shouldn't be something to get too worked up about. And O'Dowd was still keen to impress that it was "only two points".
But the mechanics of it felt a little different this time. His team had found themselves four points down (0-9 to 0-5) and struggling early in the second half to a visiting team that appeared to have them in a firm clench in a game that had a 'four-pointer' feel to it after last week's reversals.
Kildare were dictating the pace and deciding by what numbers and in what areas of the field it should be played. Such trench warfare has not been Meath's preferred battleground in the past.
Any manager will see willingness of spirit as the most important fundamental of a team and, for the final half-hour here, O'Dowd saw it manifest in spades. They didn't so much play their way out of trouble as fight their way out of it, step by step, inch by inch, for a hugely important win.
One thing that has struck him in his two years in charge has been the decreasing age profile of his squad.
"They are so young. We need to bring them through this period. You can't inject that experience into them," he reflected. "I know I can't keep saying it but there were four lads who started tonight playing their second league match for Meath and three of them were in central positions.
"What does a night like tonight do to a young bunch of players?" he asked. "It will be a date marked in their career calendar and hopefully we'll move on from it. At the end of the day it is two league points in February. We are aware of that.
"But it was a real pressure game and it was so pleasing to see how every player stood up - not just tonight but all throughout the week. There was some exemplary leadership there."
No one pressed their shoulder to the wheel more forcefully than wing-forward Andrew Tormey. He was everywhere, back in defence making interceptions and big tackles and charging forward to score three points on the run, the last of which gave Meath clear daylight at the end.
He also took over free-taking duties from a misfiring Mickey Newman, slotting an important one on 60 minutes to draw Meath level, 0-10 each, having trailed from the 19th minute. His contribution was all the more significant as Graham Reilly was black-carded, somewhat harshly, for a split-second-late collision with Keith Cribbin after nine minutes. For all its frantic nature though, the quality was generally poor with a high turnover rate. Quite often, given the counter-attacking, mistakes at one end led to scores at the other.
When these Leinster rivals met in a corresponding Division 2 league match in similar conditions at the same venue in early March 2012, the combined return was 35 points (0-18 to 2-11).
Just under three years on, the cumulative figure was scaled back to 24 points. The penny has dropped a long time ago with both counties about the need to defend better and more collectively. But talking about it, planning it and promising to themselves to do it is one thing, executing it is another.
In that sense this second half will really please the Meath management, how they got bodies back constructively and got around the man in possession to force countless turnovers.
Their 61st-minute lead point from Newman was the perfect example, Ciaran Fitzpatrick and Niall Kelly as they ran into traffic got their wires crossed and allowed Menton to sprint clear and tee up his corner-forward for 0-11 to 0-10 lead. Kildare can be pleased with their defence too, often numbering all 15 players, with Eoin Doyle, playing his first full match after almost two years out with groin/hip problems that required three operations, Ciaran Fitzpatrick, Ollie Lyons and Mick O'Grady particularly vibrant in carrying ball from defence.
But Peter Kelly's concession of frees remains a concern, four given against him for challenges on Stephen Bray with another for an illegal pick-up.
Neither side managed to create a clear goal chance which may say as much about the innovation of the respective attacks as it does about the level of security. But it left O'Dowd to reflect on the nuances of the 'modern game'.
His opposite number Jason Ryan will be disappointed to have let another lead slip but the circumstances were different from the smash-and-grab raid they suffered to Down six days earlier.
They were highly efficient with their attacking play in the opening half as they opened a 0-7 to 0-4 lead but found Meath's defence, led by captain Donal Keogan and Menton, much more uncompromising as they chased down that lead. Still Ryan could draw on Kildare's experience in 2012 when they lost opening games to Tyrone and Monaghan but still claimed the Division 2 title.
"It has happened before, it has happened before in Kildare so it is just a matter of retaining belief in ourselves. There is certainly no panic stations.
"It is very easy when people say, 'Oh Jesus you have lost again' when the reality is we have lost a game by two points. The last day we were winning with a few seconds left and we lost it so we're not being outclassed."
Man of the Match: Andrew Tormey
Scorers - Meath: A Tormey 0-4 (1f), M Newman 0-3 (2fs), S Tobin 0-2 (2fs), S Bray, P O'Rourke (f) B Menton, A Flanagan 0-1 each. Kildare: D Mulhall 0-4 (3fs), P O'Neill, F Dowling 0-2 each, M O'Grady, K Cribbin, E O'Flaherty (f) 0-1 each.
Meath - P O'Rourke 8; D Tobin 6, C McGill 7, D Keogan 8; D Dalton 7, M Burke 7, B Menton 8; H Rooney 7, A Flanagan 7; G Reilly, P Harnan 6, A Tormey 8; J Wallace 5, S Bray 8, M Newman 5. Subs: S Tobin 7 for Reilly (BC, 10), D Bray 5 for Wallace (35), B Power 5 for Harnan (56), E Wallace for D Bray (69).
Kildare - M Donnellan 7; C Fitzpatrick 7, P Kelly 6, O Lyons 7; M O'Grady 8, D O'Brien 7, E Doyle 8; G White 6, P O'Neill 7; E Callaghan 7, E O Flaharta 7, K Cribbin 7; D Mulhall 7, F Dowling 7, P Fogarty 5. Subs: N Kelly 5 for Dowling (51), T O'Connor for Fogarty (61), F Conway for Fitzpatrick (65).
Ref - C Branagan (Down)