The sun shone brightly at MacHale Park this afternoon on a perfect summer’s day for football. One problem though – neither side had anything tangible to play for and the contest we got to see reflected that obvious fact.
We won comfortably to top the group with three wins from three games. Our reward is a Division Two semi-final against Clare two weeks from now, where the spoils on offer will definitely be worth scrapping hard for, as the winners there are promoted to Division One.
We made two changes ahead of throw-in today. Jack Carney was introduced, making his full League debut in the process, replacing Fionn McDonagh while Ryan O’Donogue started instead of Paul Towey. Those changes were only minor though compared to the hatchet Andy McEntee took to the fifteen they’d named only yesterday. Meath made all of eight switches to their named team, sending into the fray a largely shadow fifteen.
That pretty much stripped from the proceedings whatever significance the match might have had. Despite the many changes we’d made from last weekend we were by far the stronger outfit and over the course of the first half, where we had the aid of a lively enough breeze, we demonstrated this pretty emphatically.
Cillian O’Connor got three unanswered points, two frees and a mark, to get us going before Jack O’Connor, after a good penetrating run down the right wing, opened the visitors’ account.
Another Cillian free, awarded when Jack Carney was nudged as he got his shot away, the ball cannoning back off the upright, was answered in kind at the other end. Flynn converted the placed ball for them.
Michael Plunkett bagged our next one. Ryan O’Donoghue seemed to have gone up a cul de sac but recycled the ball well and the Ballintubber man shot over from distance.
Then came their goal. From our perspective it was yet another very poor three-pointer to concede as they cut our backline open with embarrassing ease. Robbie Hennelly did really well to stop Scully’s initial effort but the ball spun out to the feet of Conlon, the Meath man bizarrely attired in what looked like a swimming cap. He had the simple task of poking the ball into our empty net.
All our good early work undone, we quickly moved to make amends. By the water break we were two in front, Mattie Ruane chipping over a nice one off his left and then Fergal Boland, after a great Mattie fetch from the restart, raiding forward and shooting over.
On the resumption we got a penalty, Bryan Walsh getting shunted in the back as he bore down on goal. Cillian sent the ‘keeper the wrong way from the spot.
Our next score was another goal. James Carr, who’d hit two bad wides with his first efforts at the posts, was on the end of a move put together by the O’Connor brothers.
Cillian played it into Diarmuid and he popped it up quickly for the Ardagh man to palm to the net. James then hoisted over a cracking score from way out as our lead stretched to nine points.
Wallace and Cillian traded points from play in a match that already resembled little more than a glorified challenge game. Not that the over-fussy Martin McNally noticed, the Monaghan ref constantly whistling, pulling us up repeatedly for what seemed to be not a whole lot.
One of these decisions saw a soft free for them forty yards out then succeeded by a fourteen-yard one when no foul at all had happened. Lee was yellow carded for the first of those and was looking as bewildered as the rest of us as to what rule book was being followed.
Darren McHale notched his second point from play after being picked out by Diarmuid from a line ball. Diarmuid then smashed an effort from distance off the outside of the boot but it hit the upright and bounced wide.
Another head-scratching decision yielded Meath another close-in free, which they duly converted. On the GAA GO live stream, James Horan’s animated bellowing was getting louder by the minute.
Before the break, though, his team conjured up something to calm him – and us – down. First Bryan Walsh clipped over a tidy point from a tight angle and then James Carr let fly with a shot the ‘keeper should really have got to but which ended in the net. That ended the game as a contest too as we retired at half-time with a twelve-point cushion.
We sensibly withdrew Lee and Cillian for the second half, Colm Boyle and Paul Towey coming on. They rang the changes too but the lads they brought on were first fifteen men so it was perhaps no surprise that Meath were far stronger in what was admittedly a fairly soporific second half.
The main point of note from our point of view after the break was the second goal we conceded. Menton’s emphatic finish was top class but our defending in the lead-up to it was little short of comical. It’s something we simply have to address for Championship as, at this rate, better teams will make hay in that department against us.
When Conlon, who claimed possession totally unmarked thirty yards from our posts, followed up Menton’s goal with a point from play, the gap was down to seven points. With almost half an hour to play at this stage, the game still had the potential to rouse itself from its slumbers but when Meath picked up two black cards in quick succession that put paid to those notions.
We didn’t exactly wreak damage in that brief spell when we had a two-man advantage. Meath fell back in numbers and we were content to play the ball over and back out around the middle.
A large virtual cheer rang out when Aidan O’Shea, unexpectedly named on the bench, came in for Jack Carney. The Breaffy man promptly pointed from play with his first touch of the ball. Eoghan McLaughlin had replaced Fergal Boland at the same time.
The highlight from our point of view before the second water break was a fine score from Mattie, dispatched via the outside of the boot. We took an eight-point lead into that halt in play.
The contest died on its feet in the final quarter. Meath continued to defend deeply, while we probed in a languid and utterly unhurried way. Paul Towey, who bagged three points (two frees) for us today, got a nice score when the ball was played quickly into him after Aidan was fouled while sub Mickey Newman swung over an even nicer one for them.
With Meath lads falling round the field with cramp, it made sense to blow the bloody thing up as soon as the seventy minutes were played. But no, we had to have four minutes of added time as well before the Monaghan official blew his pernickety whistle for the final time. We won by eight at the finish.
There’s very little more to say about what was an utterly meaningless contest. From our perspective, the main takeaway has to be our porous defence, which today leaked two more bad goals. If the red lights aren’t going off in warning all over the joint about this then something really is amiss. We simply have to tighten up at the back and we have to do so straight away.
Aside from that Mattie Ruane put in another powerhouse display in midfield and Kevin McStay, on co-commentary with Mike Finnerty on GAA GO, was right to be cooing about the Breaffy player’s blossoming partnership in the engine room with Diarmuid O’Connor. Kevin awarded them a joint MOTM and he has a point.
Clare’s one-point loss to Cork today meant that they did enough to claim the second semi-final slot in Division Two South, elbowing the Leesiders out of the promotion race in the process. We now face Colm Collins’ Bannermen in two weeks time, with the winners of that one claiming one of the two spots on offer in Division One next year.
So, it’s three wins from three outings in Division Two North for us. While there’s plenty to take encouragement from out of those three games there’s clearly loads that needs working on too, most of it relating to our colander-like backline.
Here’s hoping we see major improvements in that area when we take on Clare in a fortnight’s time. And, of course, that we also seal a quick return to the top tier of the League at the same time.
Mayo: Robbie Hennelly; Eoin O’Donoghue, Óisin Mullin, Lee Keegan; Michael Plunkett (0-1), Stephen Coen, Fergal Boland (0-1); Matthew Ruane (0-2), Diarmuid O’Connor; Jack Carney, Darren McHale (0-2), Bryan Walsh (0-2); Ryan O’Donoghue, Cillian O’Connor (1-4, penalty goal, two frees and a mark), James Carr (2-1). Subs: Colm Boyle for Keegan, Paul Towey (0-3, two frees) for Cillian O’Connor, Aidan O’Shea (0-1) for Carney, Eoghan McLaughlin for Boland, Darren Coen for Ryan O’Donoghue, Jordan Flynn for McHale, Tommy Conroy for Carr.
Who was our MOTM against Meath? Pick your top three performers
- Matthew Ruane (31%, 624 Votes)
- James Carr (19%, 382 Votes)
- Diarmuid O'Connor (12%, 235 Votes)
- Darren McHale (7%, 141 Votes)
- Cillian O'Connor (5%, 103 Votes)
- Oisin Mullin (4%, 81 Votes)
- Bryan Walsh (3%, 62 Votes)
- Fergal Boland (2%, 50 Votes)
- Robbie Hennelly (2%, 45 Votes)
- Ryan O'Donoghue (2%, 42 Votes)
- Lee Keegan (2%, 40 Votes)
- Michael Plunkett (2%, 37 Votes)
- Paul Towey (2%, 36 Votes)
- Eoin O'Donoghue (2%, 33 Votes)
- Jack Carney (1%, 22 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (1%, 19 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (1%, 17 Votes)
- Colm Boyle (1%, 14 Votes)
- Jordan Flynn (1%, 12 Votes)
- Tommy Conroy (1%, 12 Votes)
- Eoghan McLaughlin (0%, 9 Votes)
- Darren Coen (0%, 8 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,010