When Meath banged home their second goal with a little over fifteen minutes to go, our goose looked well and truly cooked at Páirc Tailteann today. The too-small first half lead we’d built up with the aid of the wind had been squandered and it appeared then that we’d struggle even to add to our opening half tally. A dispiriting defeat and bottom spot in the table seemed our lot at that point.
But that wasn’t accounting for Kevin McLoughlin. The Knockmore man had been named to start but was kept on the bench – Aidan O’Shea lined out instead, with Lee Keegan replacing Padraig O’Hora, who, for some unspecified reason, didn’t tog today – and was only introduced for the second half. His influence on the game wasn’t felt until he got our first score of the second half with less than ten minutes left to play but, a bit like James Durcan in Ballybofey, he then went on to make a decisive impact on the scoreboard.
But let’s scroll back to the start. We were in our seats in the stand at Páirc Tailteann well over an hour before throw-in, a stand that was filling rapidly at that stage. The pitch looked in fine shape but the underfoot conditions weren’t the problem, instead it was the howling gale blowing straight down the field into the town end. Stephen Coen won the toss and opted to play with the wind in the first half.
Tommy Conroy’s confidently struck point on the run opened the day’s scoring. When their keeper was pinged for overcarrying, James Carr lofted the free over with his left to double our advantage.
Meath weren’t idle in these opening stages, though. Hard-working and well clued-in, they ran at us and created four scoring chances, all of which they spurned due to a combination of poor shot selection and an inability to read the tricky conditions.
We had our own troubles in that regard, with Tommy Conroy and James Durcan off target. James Carr, however, split the posts with a monstrous effort from fifty yards out.
At the twenty minute mark we were five to the good, Paddy Durcan and Fergal Boland both shooting over from distance. Meath were still to get off the mark. Eventually they did so when Menton galloped through the middle and fired over.
That effort was the only one the Royals got in the opening half. We tagged on two more before the break, the first from the lively Ryan O’Donoghue and the second a trademark outside of the boot effort launched in over the cover by Fergal Boland.
Six up at the break, the obvious question among Mayo supporters was whether or not, given the conditions, the lead would be enough to bag the points. Meath had the look of a dangerous outfit, one that clearly wasn’t beaten at the half-way mark.
We made two changes for the second half. Kevin McLoughlin replaced James Carr while Conor Loftus came on for Tomy Conroy.
There was a long scoreless spell on the resumption. Now it was our turn to find it difficult to bag scores against the wind but their wide count was also continuing to creep up at the other end.
Eventually Meath opened their account and they did so with effect. They won the ball out the middle and carved us completely open with a series of rapid handpasses, leaving the static cover for dead. I’m not sure who it was who pawed the ball to the net but the score brought what had up till then been a rather dour struggle dramatically to life.
Our attacking attempts were now looking a bit forlorn as Meath, perhaps for the first time, sensed they might just nick this one. A second goal and a point in quick succession and they looked a racing certainty to do so, with more than fifteen minutes left to play and the gale showing no sign of easing.
Our cause looked a bit desperate then. We seemed a shapeless mess, a team devoid of any kind of coherent plan, up against a well-drilled outfit that now had their tails up. Surely, this one could only go one way from here?
It didn’t and we’ve Kevin McLoughlin to thank for that.
I have to admit that when I saw him standing over that free, twenty yards out on the right, my heart sank. But Kevin, fair play to him, backed himself and rammed it over into the teeth of the gale to haul us level.
Before then the home team had missed three chances to pull further clear. Just after Kevin’s leveler, though, dangerman Cillian O’Sullivan claimed a forward mark and belted it over from the fifty.
But our dander was now well and truly up. We poured forward and they sank back, leaving us to toss the ball back and over as we searched for an opening. Eventually Aidan moved in, Paddy arrowed it into the danger zone where Ryan O’Donoghue claimed it and fed Kevin who fired over.
O’Sullivan then manufactured a free for himself at the other end, Hurson falling for the theatrics. The Meath bun man skied his effort wide, though, and the game was still level.
It wasn’t for long. Meath got caught in possession near their goal and Kevin McLoughlin pounced to turn it over. He initiated a rapid move in tandem with Ryan O’Donoghue, a quick one-two putting Kevin in on goal. He doesn’t tend to miss from there. He didn’t.
Now it was Meath’s turn for desperation. Three down and time running out they made a late, frenzied effort to save something from the tie. Before the final whistle sounded they managed to claw back two points but we held on to win by the minimum margin.
I’m not sure this was a game we deserved to win, in all honesty, but win it we did. What was gratifying was that when faced with adversity – having conceded those two goals and with all that time to play against the wind – we were able to dig ourselves out of the hole.
Kevin will obviously get plenty of plaudits for his match-altering contribution to the scoreboard but he wasn’t alone. Fergal Boland was lively and involved throughout and Ryan O’Donoghue showed too why so many speak so highly about him. Further back, Paddy Durcan drove us forward repeatedly and Lee Keegan showed he’s still got plenty of appetite for the fight. In goals, Robbie’s restarts into the wind after the break were as steady and composed as they really had to be.
So instead of facing into Round 4 looking up from the bottom of the table, we’re now on three points, the same tally garnered by a Monaghan team that has earned such praise already this spring. It’s the Farney lads away up next for us – that’s another one we’ll need a result from to help push us closer to safety in this ultra-competitive top tier.
Mayo: Robbie Hennelly; Lee Keegan, James McCormack, Brendan Harrison; Eoin O’Donoghue, Michael Plunkett, Paddy Durcan (0-1); Stephen Coen, Diarmuid O’Connor; Fergal Boland (0-2), Ryan O’Donoghue (0-1), James Durcan; Tommy Conroy (0-1), James Carr (0-2, one free), Aidan O’Shea. Subs: Kevin McLoughlin (1-2, one free) for Carr, Conor Loftus for Conroy, Eoghan McLaughlin for McCormack, Ciaran Treacy for James Durcan, Bryan Walsh for Boland.
Who was our MOTM against Meath? Pick your top three performers
- Kevin McLoughlin (40%, 583 Votes)
- Fergal Boland (16%, 233 Votes)
- Ryan O'Donoghue (14%, 200 Votes)
- Paddy Durcan (9%, 129 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (5%, 80 Votes)
- Robbie Hennelly (3%, 49 Votes)
- Diarmuid O'Connor (2%, 34 Votes)
- Eoin O'Donoghue (2%, 25 Votes)
- James Carr (2%, 25 Votes)
- Michael Plunkett (1%, 17 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (1%, 16 Votes)
- Lee Keegan (1%, 15 Votes)
- Brendan Harrison (1%, 15 Votes)
- Conor Loftus (1%, 11 Votes)
- Tommy Conroy (1%, 10 Votes)
- James Durcan (0%, 5 Votes)
- James McCormack (0%, 5 Votes)
- Eoghan McLaughlin (0%, 5 Votes)
- Bryan Walsh (0%, 4 Votes)
- Ciaran Treacy (0%, 3 Votes)
Total Voters: 819