Mick O'Dowd won't quit on ousted Royals
Big call faces Meath clubs as Micko rues Gillespie loss
MEATH didn't go down with a whimper, for sure, but they went down all the same. Cue another watershed decision for a body of people much exercised during the years of tumult that preceded Mick O'Dowd's appointment - the club delegates of Meath.
Stick or twist? Be patient or push?
It was dank and miserable in Omagh and so too, in the first half, was the football. Belatedly, against our dwindling expectations, we witnessed the outbreak of a do-or-die championship match: "you score, we score", both sides going at it hammer and tongs for their summer survival.
And in the end, the hosts were still standing. Tyrone's small core of All-Ireland senior survivors, some mid-twenties leaders and several impact subs turned the tide ... yet ultimately they were still reliant on Peter Harte's clinical 53rd minute penalty, won by one of those subs (Tiernan McCann), to secure safe passage into the round 3B draw.
The visitors weren't overly enamoured of that penalty award, but they can't change history now. What they must do is decide whether O'Dowd is worthy of another managerial shot now that his three-year has expired.
"I'm definitely backing him 100 percent," was the emphatic post-match reaction of his captain, Donal Keogan.
"Himself, Seán (Kelly) and Trevor (Giles) and even Colm Brady, they have put in huge effort."
Supporters might have a more fickle reaction after this mid-July exit, but Keogan remarked: "First thing they do is jump on the manager's back. Look it, we have the best in the county there at the minute. I wouldn't be pushing too far to shove them out of the place. They are going in the right direction. They just need more time."
O'Dowd himself made it clear he is willing to go again, suggesting that - in the past - instability has "hampered Meath's progress." But he acknowledged that this was "totally up to the Meath clubs".
He added: "I wouldn't walk away from this bunch because I believe in them, believe in the work they've put in. And I think, at times, they've been doing it against adversity with key losses of big players."
No one bigger than Conor Gillespie. Bar a few sporadic spring appearances, the midfielder has missed two full campaigns because of two different knee injuries.
"This Meath team is doing all this in the context of having its most influential player sitting on the bench for the last two seasons. I don't think people who are so quick to criticise the team actually understand that ... that's what Conor Gillespie is for us," O'Dowd declared. "Maybe I haven't stated that publicly because it's so hard for him, the last two seasons. But it's really hard for Meath."
Still, the sceptics will counter that Meath haven't produced one consistent 70-minute performance in their three summer outings. They leaked 3-12 against lowly Wicklow; collapsed from a position of total control with 20 minutes to go against Westmeath; and then, having embraced a defensive set-up against a similarly cautious Tyrone, failed to score for the first 28 minutes.
And yet they still led after a turgid first half, with the elements now in their favour. "For them to go in 4-3 up was a bit of a disaster for us," admitted Tyrone supremo Mickey Harte, "and it asked questions of these players, 'Can you cope with a difficult situation?' And it was a difficult situation ... they had to stand up and be counted.
"And that is not to say that it was easy in the second half - the game was on a knife-edge."
Both managers agreed that the penalty was pivotal. O'Dowd ventured that McCann "maybe travelled a bit too far with it, but I'd need to see it again" while Keogan declared: "I don't think it was (a penalty). What do you think?"
Last word to O'Dowd: "My goal has been to get Meath into the top-eight and we haven't achieved it. I think that's an achievable goal."
Time will tell if he's the man to lead them there.
sfc qualifier: tyrone 1-10 meath 0-11