Royals' top tier dreams take a Breffni bashing
Cavan 2-14 Meath 1-12
One step forward, two jarring steps back for a Meath team that has become far too familiar with Division 2 football.
Every recent Meath manager has spoken about the pressing need to secure top-flight promotion. It is, so the argument goes, the best way to try and close the Leinster chasm to Dublin.
The odds on achieving that goal were enhanced, a fortnight ago, by Meath's 14-point rout of Clare. The same Clare that had earlier drawn with Cavan.
But then the Royals made the short hop to Kingspan Breffni for yesterday's Allianz League refixture ...
Five points doesn't sound like a thrashing but this was even more comprehensive than it sounds. Meath had plenty of possession, for sure, but were ponderous to the point of clueless at times in how they utilised it.
Cavan were everything their neighbours were not: touch-tight in defence, with plenty of bodies back, yet deadly quick on the counter and more ruthless in their execution.
Victory would have left the visitors top after three rounds. Instead, that honour belongs to Cavan (with five points from six) while Meath are stuck in a very congested mid-table.
"Every game is always going to be crucial. Nothing has changed - we still have to win the rest of our games," said Andy McEntee afterwards.
"And even then, you just don't know."
Nor did he know why his team had been so flat in a first half which ended with Cavan 1-8 to 0-4 ahead, the goal coming via a pinpoint, low finish on the rebound from Conor Moynagh in the 27th minute.
"We've no reason and no excuses. It is what it is. We had a lot of ball at the start of the game … we just didn't do the right things with it," McEntee concluded.
Moynagh was one of many Cavan heroes on a day when ten players shared in their 2-14 haul. Another, centre-back Ciaran Brady, all but killed the tie with their second goal in the 44th minute, shooting underneath 'keeper Andrew Colgan after a superb catch by Gearóid McKiernan and sublime pass by fellow sub Cian Mackey in the build-up.
Meath were given a glimpse of hope when Cillian O'Sullivan won a penalty in the next play and, after a long delay caused by a melee and flurry of yellows, sub Donal Lenihan calmly converted.
That cut the deficit to seven; but they never got closer than five.
As Cavan steered a serene path to victory, one visibly irate Meath fan was led away from the stand by gardaí ... it was that kind of day. His team will need to come out fighting, in the right way, in Tipperary next Saturday while Cavan head to Cork on Sunday.
Manager Mattie McGleenan waxed lyrical about this display but warned: "We're under no illusions. I watched Donegal playing Tyrone last night - ultimately it's all about getting to May 13, to play Donegal in the championship, and this is class preparation for that."
SCORERS - Cavan: C Moynagh, C Brady 1-0 each, N Clerkin, C O'Reilly (1f) 0-3 each, B Magee (2f), G McKiernan 0-2 each, A Cole, D McVeety, R Galligan ('45'), K Clarke 0-1 each. Meath: D Lenihan 1-0 (pen), P McKeever 0-3 (2f), E Wallace, G Reilly, C O'Sullivan, B Menton 0-2 each, D O'Neill 0-1.
CAVAN: R Galligan; N Murray, P Faulkner, D Phillips; M Reilly, C Brady, E Flanagan; K Clarke, B Magee; N Clerkin, C Moynagh, O Kiernan; C O'Reilly, A Cole, D McVeety. Subs: C Mackey for Clerkin (ht), G McKiernan for Cole (ht), J McLoughlin for Phillips (52), S Murray for Flanagan (54), T Galligan for O'Reilly (63), R Connolly for Magee (69).
MEATH: A Colgan; S Lavin, C McGill, D Keogan; B Conlon, B Power, S McEntee; B Menton, A Flanagan; J McEntee, P McKeever, G Reilly; B McMahon, C O'Sullivan, E Wallace. Subs: D Lenihan for McMahon (ht), H Rooney for Flanagan (43), S Tobin for J McEntee (55), D O'Neill for Conlon (55), C Halligan for Rooney (BC 61), T O'Reilly for Reilly (63).
WIDES: Cavan 5 (2+3); Meath 8 (7+1). YELLOW: Cavan 2 (Clarke 48, Phillips 48); Meath 4 (McMahon 15, McKeever 17, Menton 48, S McEntee 57). BLACK: Cavan 0; Meath 1 (Rooney 59).
REF: C Branagan (Down). ATT: 6,572.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Ciaran Brady (Cavan).