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Easy street for Royal County at Cusack Park

Wednesday, 15th February, 2012 4:54pm

Story by Fergal Lynch
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Easy street for Royal County at Cusack Park

Michael Burke in action for Meath during Sunday's NFL Div 2 game against Westmeath.

Easy street for Royal County at Cusack Park

Michael Burke in action for Meath during Sunday's NFL Div 2 game against Westmeath.

Two points in the bag, 17 scores on the board, nine different scorers and only three points conceded from play all add up to a good days work for Meath as they secured a second successive NFL Div 2 win with an easy victory over Westmeath in Mullingar on Sunday.

Add in the return to league action of Graham Geraghty and valuable game-time for Joe Sheridan, Kevin Reilly (pictured) and Caoimhin King as well as only a second away win in the league in five years and it proved to be a good day for the big Meath following who outnumbered their hosts by almost six-to-one.

It must be taken into consideration just how poor Westmeath were. They were without their Garrycastle contingent because of All-Ireland Club SFC duty and they were also missing several players because of injury and emigration.

Throw in the fact they lost Denis Glennon before throw-in to injury and then were reduced to 14 men for the final 17 minutes and it is easy to see why they found themselves at the wrong end of a 12-point drubbing.

Rarely will Meath come up against such a poor side as Westmeath, but for the first time in a league game since March 2009 against Wexford, the travelling Royal supporters went home with a smile on their faces and a victory to celebrate.

The win punctuates a perfect start to NFL Div 2 for Meath. With two of the three perceived weakest teams on the agenda in the opening series of games, Meath needed to get off to a good start and that was maintained on Sunday.

There were times when Meath displayed moments of carelessness and obvious weakness, but manager Seamus McEnaney was delighted with the approach, commitment and the application of his game plan.

A 12-point win will paper over the cracks that develop after further analysis. Despite creating over 30 decent scoring chances, Meath converted just over 50 per cent with many efforts drifting wide, dropping short or breaking down because of a poor final pass.

Decision-making will need to improve when the 'big guns' of the division front up to Meath. Taking pot shots at the target from difficult angles or extreme distances served no one any good and the starved full-forward line were bereft of quality ball time and again.

That criticism aside, Meath were quite impressive as they comfortably disposed of the opposition.

From back to front they were lively, hungry and determined. Mickey Burke slotted in at centre-back and had an excellent game as did Chris O'Connor who must have covered every blade of grass in Cusack Park.

Bryan Menton and Gary O'Brien were supplemented by the excellent Shane McAnarney in the full-back line and with Ciaran Lenehan, Cormac McGuinness and outstanding captain Seamus Kenny all providing stern defence Westmeath were restricted to just three scores from play, only one in the second-half.

The bulk of Meath's dominance arose from their overwhelming superiority at midfield where Brian Meade and Mark Ward worked well to secure primary possession and when the loose ball did break, invariably O'Connor, Kenny, Lenehan or McAnarney were on hand to sweep it up.

The pressure applied by Mark Ward and Meade forced Westmeath into many errors and the amount of turnover ball ensured that Meath spent the majority of the contest on the front foot.

It might be easy to level criticism at the Meath forwards for not converting more than 50 per cent of the attacking chances, but the reality is that not all those opportunities were wasted by forwards and also they faced an inspirational goalkeeper in Gary Connaughton.

The Westmeath netminder made stunning saves to deny Geraghty and Graham Reilly while Kieran Gavin also forced a few attacks to break down with some solid defending.

The Meath forwards played their part with Stephen Bray once again excelling with his five-point contribution and Graham Reilly also proving to be a lively threat throughout as the pair contributed eight of Meath's tally, six from play.

Paddy Gilsenan again operated as a superb target man and his ball-winning abilities were a feature of Meath's decent movement in attack.

The scoring return from play was also encouraging as 14 points of Meath's tally came as a result of excellent free flowing football and if that trend continues them they can look forward to the remainder of the spring league with a bounce in their step.

Westmeath were in trouble after 15 seconds when Cian Ward gave Meath an advantage which they didn't relinquish.

A succession of missed opportunities including bad wides from Gilsenan and Meade were wiped out when Bray skinned Paul Bannon to double Meath's lead and then he added a long-range free to make it 0-3 to 0-0 after just eight minutes.

Frees from Kieran Martin and Alan Giles either side of an excellent score from Kenny suggested that Westmeath might make more of a fight than their initial forays had suggested, but once Meath found their stride they were irrepressible.

Bray (free), McAnarney and Graham Reilly made it 0-7 to 0-2 by the end of the first-quarter and although Ennis fisted his side's third point Meath were never in danger.

Cian Ward had a 'goal' harshly chalked off for a square ball infringement, but Meath didn't get frustrated and continued to tag on the points as Graham Reilly (two) and McGuinness ensured a 0-10 to 0-4 interval lead, with Callum McCormack accounting for the host's fourth point.

Within a minute of the resumption Connaughton was performing heroics to keep Graham Reilly from finding the net. Cian Ward converted the subsequent '45' and Lenehan and Meade added further points before Westmeath grabbed what proved to be their last score from Martin with 26 minutes remaining to make it 0-5 to 0-13.

Five minutes after receiving his first yellow card, Ennis was flashed a second yellow following a high challenge on Graham Reilly, the remainder was academic.

Bray added two more points to make it 0-15 to 0-5 before Geraghty's cheeky lob was remarkably kept out by Connaughton.

Meade and Mark Ward closed the scoring with two superb efforts as Meath go into the two week break with a bounce in their step and four points on the board.

SCORERS

Meath - S Bray 0-5 two frees; G Reilly 0-3; C Ward 0-2 one '45'; B Meade 0-2; S Kenny 0-1; S McAnarney 0-1; C McGuinness 0-1; C Lenehan 0-1; M Ward 0-1.

Westmeath - K Martin 0-2 one free; A Giles 0-1 free; M Ennis 0-1; C McCormack 0-1;

THE TEAMS

Meath - David Gallagher; Mickey Burke, Bryan Menton, Gary O'Brien; Chris O'Connor, Shane McAnarney, Cormac McGuinness; Brian Meade, Mark Ward; Seamus Kenny, Graham Reilly, Ciaran Lenehan; Paddy Gilsenan, Stephen Bray, Cian Ward. Subs - Joe Sheridan for C Ward 43 mins, Graham Geraghty for Gilsenan 53m, Kevin Reilly for O'Brien 60m, Donncha Tobin for Lenehan 62m, Caoimhin King for Burke 67m.

Westmeath - G Connaughton; A Finnan, K Gavin, D McDermott; R Foley, M Ennis, K Maguire; T English, P Bannon; K Martin, A Giles, P Sheridan; P Sharry, D Glennon, C McCormack. Subs - D Daly for English 42 mins, K Sheridan for Bannon 47m, M Gorman for Giles 49m, B Moran for Glennon 56m, A Stone for Sharry 60m.

REFEREE

Eddie Kinsella (Laois).

€50 for 6 months (24 editions) of the Meath Chronicles. Ideal gift for those who have everything. Subscribe for free here.

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