Lilies bloom on the road
Kildare 3-17 Meath 0-16: McEntee's debut spoilt by leaky defence as O'Neill learns lessons
Andy McEntee didn't attempt to sweeten a bitter afternoon with promises. "I don't know if you can turn it around in a week," he shrugged after Meath were ravaged by Kildare in Navan, a 10-point loss to take home as a gaudy souvenir from his League debut as manager.
They host Derry next Sunday where another performance of yesterday's ilk would be terminal to their league ambitions.
"You would have felt lads were ready coming into a game like that and it pans out like that. You kind of wonder where it went wrong."
A crisp February afternoon brimming with promise began to implode for Meath after just 14 seconds of an encounter against a team still smarting from a demoralising loss to a scratch Dublin team two weeks back.
Kildare debutant Ben McCormack made the most of a quick pass and the acres of space Meath had left around their inside back line to score a goal that proved typical of a first half that left the home side gasping for breath.
Indeed, the trend of the first half hour was for Kildare to stride unhindered through the Meath cover without so much as a sweeper or spare tackler to contend with.
"I'm not going to name anybody," McEntee stressed.
"I'd need to see where that happened but it looked like they were coming forward a little bit too easily.
Asked whether he had intended his team to provide more cover for a defence that, in the circumstances, did all it could whilst still conceding 3-17, McEntee explained: "We intended to have a little bit more pressure on the ball.
"That didn't happen for one reason for another."
In truth, they left themselves little chance yet could have made a game of it had they been awarded a penalty for a clear foul on Cillian O'Sullivan just before half-time and/or had O'Sullivan converted another chance immediately afterwards.
With Niall Kelly in dazzling form at the apex of the Kildare attack, aided capably by McCormack and Paul Cribbin, Kildare's play was intelligent and penetrative and at 2-7 to 0-7 at half-time, they went on to do in Navan what they failed dismally to do in Newbridge two weeks ago.
For Cian O'Neill, it was the perfect response to that collapse.
"Contrary to what some people think was the end of the world ... for us, it was a blessing in disguise."
"What happened in that match happened last year in the Leinster semi.
"It happened in Castlebar, where you're doing well, competitive, should be pushing on and then boom!
"So you have to question yourself. And I challenged the players and the backroom. That was the catalyst."
ALLIANZ football LEAGUE DIV 2
SCORERS - Kildare: N Kelly 2-2, B McCormack 1-3, P Cribbin, N Flynn (2f) 0-3 each, K Cribbin 0-2, E Doyle, K Feely, O Lyons, D Flynn 0-1 each. Meath: D Lenihan 0-7 (5f), G Reilly 0-4, C O'Sullivan, A Forde 0-2 each, B Menton 0-1
KILDARE: M Donnellan; M O'Grady, D Hyland, O Lyons; J Byrne, E Doyle, K Cribbin; K Feely, T Moolick; F Conway, N Kelly, P Cribbin; B McCormack, D Flynn, N Flynn. Subs: C McNally for Conway (61), P Kelly for O'Grady (62), S Ryan for Byrne (65), E Callaghan for N Kelly (67), C Hartley for D Flynn (69), D Slattery for McCormack (69).
MEATH: J Hannigan; M Burke, C McGill, D Keogan; B Power, S McEntee, A Douglas; C O'Brien, B Menton; C O'Sullivan, A Forde, G Reilly; E Wallace, B Sheridan, D Lenihan. Subs: D McQuillan for Burke (21 black card), A Flanagan for O'Brien (h-t), R Ó Coileáin for Power (h-t), B O'Brien for Sheridan (46), C Downey for Wallace (51), W Carry for McEntee (65)
WIDES - Kildare: 5 (5 + 0). Meath: 5 (2 + 3).
BOOKED - Kildare: (P Cribbin 34, K Cribbin 54, O'Grady 62). Meath: (Forde 73, O'Brien 74).
BLACK CARD - Meath: 1 (Burke 20)
REF: C Branagan (Down)
ATTENDANCE: 6,000 (Est.)
MAN OF THE MATCH: Niall Kelly (Kildare)