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Thursday 14 December 2017

Bray rescues sloppy Meath

But Lakesmen 'turn corner' despite defeat to woeful Royals

A quote apiece from rival managers Brendan Hackett and Eamon O'Brien summed up quite accurately the preceding 70 minutes of football in Páirc Tailteann.

O'Brien, having watched his team squander a six-point half-time lead and teeter on the brink of a first home defeat to Westmeath since 1960, admitted quite candidly, "Westmeath should probably have won".

Hackett, meanwhile, had his post-match missive already prepared. "Do you want the cliché?," he asked. "I'm sick as a parrot."

Which was fair enough, but this was truly one of those games that neither team deserved to win, though Meath eventually did, by default, on a scoreline of 1-12 to 2-8.

The Royals worked up a six-point half-time lead seemingly at their ease, but lacked the concentration, determination and perhaps interest in the second half until late on when Westmeath almost mugged them.

For their part, Hackett's bunch were utterly toothless in attack in the first period, their only scores coming from Paul Bannon -- a single point from play, one free and a penalty awarded by referee Jimmy White in perhaps one of his more charitable moments.

At the other end, Joe Sheridan bagged an early goal but contributed little else afterwards besides wides, Kieran Gavin continuing his impressive Sigerson Cup form into the county's full-back jersey, though Meath's corner men -- the Bray brothers, Stephen and David -- were sharp and uncompromising whenever the ball arrived.

Hackett, obviously identifying the lack of presence from his half-forward line, moved Michael Ennis and Doran Harte forward from Westmeath's half back division and the rewards were almost instant.

Ennis kick-started a Maroon revival, scoring 1-2 from his new position, while the introduction of Phillip Gilsenan added a bit of abandon to the Westmeath attack.

Meath failed to score for 24 minutes, while Ennis put Westmeath into the lead coming down the home stretch, before a hectic period of football was littered with mistakes and blighted by some woeful free-taking.

David Bray and Jamie Queeney both missed easy place kicks to win the game for Meath before Paul Bannon's repaid the favour at the other end.

Faced with a kick slightly on the left of the posts and close to the 21m line, Bannon sent his punt high and to the right, and, from the resulting kick out, Meath worked the ball to David Bray, who made amends for his earlier sins to win the game for Meath.

"It was a cruel way to lose," admitted Hackett.

"But we've turned a corner. I'm happy that we've definitely turned a corner on the evidence of what we saw there today.

"We're in transition. Everyone sees that as an excuse. We are in transition. We know we're in a transition. That, today, now for me is a huge cause for encouragement.

"You try to hold your own in Division Two. The way I look at it is we've four games left. If we take five points from those, that will be our aim. Two wins and a draw -- I think five points will be enough to stay up," added Hackett, who wouldn't be drawn on the recent decisions of both Dessie Dolan and Dennis Glennon to walk away from the county scene this year.

"I think we can improve from that tonight," commented O'Brien, clearly relieved not to have let the points slip under the circumstances. "I think we can. I hope we can. Sometimes when we play against what Meath people would regard as weaker opposition, we never seem to be able to win comfortably, or we struggle.

"In fairness, Westmeath worked very hard. They worked their socks off out there. Especially in the second half. They changed their team around there at half time. They caused us problems when they moved their centre-back and their wing-back into the half- forward line. That caused us a lot of trouble," added the winning boss.

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