'Naive' royals do just enough
JUST how close we came to a shock in Navan yesterday is hard to really judge.
Meath beat Wicklow by four points (2-19 to 3-12) but with ten minutes go and John McGrath standing over a free from within 30 metres with Johnny Magee's men just two points down, it was certainly possible, if never quite probable.
Mick O'Dowd's team had defended all day like the novices many of them are and with Conor McGraynor causing full scale pandemonium by virtue of his strength and enthusiasm, the Meath manager introduced both Kevin Reilly and Bryan Menton, neither of whom were deemed fit enough to start and in an ideal world, wouldn't have been called upon to batten down the hatches yesterday either.
McGrath's free sailed high and wide though.
And in the ensuing tense minutes, Andrew Tormey scored a couple for Meath, Wicklow had two men sent off and the bubble of drama that had, to that point, been slowly building through the under-performance of one of the teams and the unexpectedly sharp performance of the other, slowly deflated.
"There was some naivety at times in our defending that we need to hone in on because it wouldn't be good enough in Croke Park," reflected O'Dowd afterwards.
Indeed, almost everything he said in the post match media conference had as its subtext the inexperience of Meath's defence and the expected repatriation of several regulars to that unit.
In all, O'Dowd selected six Championship debuts yesterday, four in defence and mostly, as a result of a bulksome injury ward.
With the ball, Meath were good, if not particularly great and 2-19 is a satisfying tally to tot up.
Without it, they were ropey, but with the mitigation outlined above.
Conceding 3-12 at home, including two penalties, doesn't reflect particularly well on the future of the Meath defence in yesterday's configuration.
"You can't tell a fella what it's like. He has to experience it and come through the better for it," O'Dowd surmised.
"With other lads coming back in, it'll be competitive now in training. So the lads learned lessons out there today and they'll be trying to put them in place over the next few weeks.
"You can't switch off. And at times, we did. And it cost us."
Of greater cause of optimism was the performance of Harry Rooney - another of the six newcomers - in midfield, "a beacon," according to O'Dowd.
Graham Reilly was close to his penetrative best too, scoring 1-4 but the eternal question of whether they're good enough to compete with Dublin may not be relevant if they play like that against Westmeath in Croke Park in two weeks time.
For Wicklow, yesterday brought a measure of redemption after a poor League that brought criticism which clearly riled their manager.
"It was pretty awful stuff in relation to how we were put down from all angles," said Magee, who takes his team to a similarly stung Armagh in the qualifiers.
"I thought it was disgraceful how we were put down coming up here.
"I'll be honest with you, I was hurting for them, to have to deal with that negativity from within and outside.
"We came here to play football," concluded the former Dublin defender. "We weren't looking for excuses."
SCORERS - Meath: A Tormey 1-9 (1-0 pen, 0-8f), G Reilly 1-4, B McMahon 0-3, J McEntee, J Wallace, S Bray 0-1 each. Wicklow: C McGraynor 2-1 (2-0 pen), P Cronin 1-0, T Kelly, J McGrath (3f) 0-3 each, D Hayden 0-2, P McLoughlin, D Woods, S Kelly 0-1 each.
MEATH: P O'Rourke 6; J McEntee 7, B Power 5, D Tobin 6; N Judge 5, D Keogan 6, D Dalton 5; H Rooney 8, A Flanagan 6; A Tormey 7, P Harnan 6, G Reilly 8; J Wallace 6, S Bray 6, B McMahon 7. Subs: M Burke 6 for Judge (h-t), B Menton 6 for Flanagan (48), E Wallace 6 for J Wallace (51), C McHugh 6 for O'Rourke (55 black card), K Reilly 6 for Dalton (58), S Tobin for Power (66).
WICKLOW: R Lambert 7; A Murphy 6, P Cunningham 5, C Hyland 6; D Healy 6, P McLoughlin 6, M Kenny 6; A McLoughlin 6, D Woods 6; N Gaffney 6, S Kelly 6, D Hayden 7; P Cronin 7, T Kelly 7, J McGrath 5. Subs: C McGraynor 7 for Gaffney (27 black card), R O'Brien 6 for Cunningham (42), J Stafford 6 for Woods (44), P Dalton 6 for McLoughlin (49), B McCrea 6 for McGrath (67), P McWalter for Kenny (69).
WIDES - Meath: 12 (5 + 7). Wicklow: 5 (3 + 2).
BOOKED - Meath: 0. Wicklow: (Healy 29, McGrath 46, Dalton 67, Cronin 61, McCrea 71).
BLACK CARD - Meath: 1 (O'Rourke 54). Wicklow: 1 (Healy 66).
SENT OFF - Wicklow: 2 (Cronin 61, Healy 66).
REF: B Cassidy (Derry).
MAN OF THE MATCH: Harry Rooney (Meath).