Royals blow away west
Dreadful Westmeath hand easy win to Meath to end three-year famine on road
IT says something about Westmeath's beleaguered state that, despite yesterday's visitors having won just once away from home in the league in almost five years, there was still a grim inevitability about the bloodless capitulation against Meath in Mullingar.
The Royals' form outside of Navan in the recent times is rivalled only by Kilkenny and London in terms of ineptitude -- their last successful away day coming against Wexford back in 2009.
But they only had to pop next door to Cusack Park for the most accommodating away day they will receive in this or any other season.
"It's a difficult station, to be quite honest," admitted Westmeath manager Pat Flanagan after they were wiped out on a scoreline of 0-17 to 0-5 by a not particularly fluent or overly impressive Meath performance.
"We came from Division 3 and we're starting to discover how difficult Division 2 is to step up to."
Meath, meanwhile, are sitting pretty atop of the second tier with Tyrone -- a complete contrast to last year when they were forced to beg, borrow and steal points to remain in the division.
"Meath won one match away from home in five years and that was something we had to change," stated their manager, Seamus McEnaney.
"The famine of the away wins was something that we needed to change, regardless of the opposition.
"Our attitude had to be 100 per cent here because Meath have travelled to Tipperary in the past and Antrim and went there complacent so we made sure our attitude was right coming here today.
"Kerry were 1/9 on Saturday night (against Armagh) and they got beat.
"So if your attitude is not right and you're complacent, you're going nowhere in life and you're going nowhere playing football."
Plenty of aspects of the Meath performance yesterday could be classed as pedestrian but they did all they had to and a little bit more. The return to form of Graham Reilly is a huge lift and his three points from play and general explosive threat were one of the highlights of the day.
He might have also had a goal but for a brilliant save from Gary Connaughton (one of two on the day after he also denied Graham Geraghty a 15-yard 'dink' in the second half) and drove Michael Ennis to such distraction that he was red carded after a second yellow for a late hit on the St Colmcille's man in the 53rd minute.
Stephen Bray, too, looks like the Stephen Bray of old and the two in-form and in tandem will be a tough prospect for any defence.
And around the middle, Meath dominated almost completely, capitalising on Westmeath's ponderous use of possession to turn over ball ad nauseum.
The day told more about Westmeath's current alarming state rather than Meath's gradually improving one, though. Flanagan's men aren't even treading water and look all but certain to drown.
It's never a good sign when your dual contingent decide to throw their lot in with the hurlers, particularly given that Westmeath operate in the third rung of the hurling league.
And it doesn't help either that Flanagan's Garrycastle contingent are focused solely on their All-Ireland club SFC bid and might not be around until late March.
"Realistically, it would have been better if we could have kept last year's panel together and add four or five," Flanagan outlined.
"But we have come in and have had to build a whole new team because we had guys that went away and a couple of guys who have decided to take other options."
Nor was the late withdrawal of Dennis Glennon due to an ankle injury particularly constructive from Westmeath's point of view, particularly when the team managed just three points from play in 70 minutes and never looked remotely likely to create a goal opportunity.
"We just couldn't risk him," Flanagan explained. "There was a chance he could have played for a period but the options were: play him and risk the fact he could be gone for three months and we just can't afford to do that.
"But we can't make excuses. We're at a different stage of development to Meath. It's basically a whole new setup that we're trying to bring together.
"We need to stick together and we need to know the standard we're playing on and work together to try and get up to that level. I still feel that we're far better off in Division 2 than Division 3 and we're learning a lot more, albeit heavy beatings aren't going to do us any good confidence-wise."