The new football rules had a tame debut in the O’Byrne Cup at Portlaoise where treacherous conditions, with high winds and heavy rain, dominated proceedings to a greater extent. Both teams occasionally fell foul of the rule limiting consecutive hand passing to three, while the impact of the advanced mark was minimal and no player suffered a sin binning for a black card offence.
There was nothing dramatic to see here. In the very first play Laois midfielder John O’Loughlin showed a lack of concentration in executing a fourth hand pass under no real pressure and conceded the free. Laois repeated the error before the half was out and in the second half, when well in control of the match, Meath got sloppy and were guilty of the same lapse in concentration.
Both teams used kick passing where possible to conserve their quota of hand passes and neither side went for a massed defence. The rules will find more testing environments than this. Afterwards Andy McEntee, the Meath manager, expressed some support for the hand pass rule, but felt it might work better out the field, worried that nearer goal the reform will be an advantage to crowded defences.
McEntee started with five newcomers and gave five more their first taste of senior football before the night was out. By then his side was well in command. McEntee said it was understandable that neither team showed much appetite on a bad night for trying out the new advanced mark rule. He also expressed concern that on a dry day the mark rule might be too radical and turn Gaelic football “into Aussie Rules”.
McEntee included Michael Newman, who missed last season, in the Meath attack and he proved accurate from placed balls, despite the forbidding conditions, his shooting helping Meath into a 2-8 to 0-3 interval lead. Once in front they were a clear step ahead of the hosts who will play in Division 3 of the National League in the New Year. Meath adapted better to the wet pitch and testing weather and two goals coming up to half time made the match safe.
Laois were still on level terms after 23 minutes when James Conlon, one of the Meath debutantes to impress, put his side in front. Conlon's point started a decisive sequence of scoring. In seven minutes the Royals hit 2-4 without reply and Laois never looked capable of getting back into contention.
Conlon’s point was the first of four unanswered, with Donal Keogan, Newman, from a 45, and Daniel Quinn all 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, the time Quinn finishing at the second attempt after newcomer Scott Osborne had stopped the first effort.
Osborne was called on 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 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 forward Thomas O’Reilly scored his side’s third goal.
Scorers: Laois - Meath - M Newman 0-5 (0-4 fs, 0-1 45; D Quinn, T O’Reilly 1-1; R Ryan 1-0; J Conlon 0-2; D Keogan, D Campion 0-1. Laois - G Walsh 0-2 (0-1 f); B Daly, E Lowry, D Conway, M Timmons 0-1.
Laois: S Osbourne; 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 mins); 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).
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); D Strong for O’Loughlin & S Nerney for O’Connor & N Murphy for Conway (50); B Byne & R Hitchcock for M Scully & Campion (64); F Crowley for Attride (65).
Referee: F Pierce (Offaly).