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Loud warning for Meath on a dark day for county footballers

Story by Tom Kelly

Wednesday, 11th April, 2012 4:54pm

Loud warning for Meath on a dark day for county footballers

Testing the fabric during Sunday's NFL Div 2 clash were Meath's Jamie Queeney and Gerard Hoey of Louth.

One of the darkest days in Meath football dawned over Páirc Táilteann on Sunday as Seamus McEnaney's men were relegated to NFL Div 3 following this humiliating drubbing by Louth.

Defeat was tough enough to take, as was suffering the drop, but the dreadful level of the performance will cause enormous anxiety ahead of a Leinster SFC opener against Wicklow on Sunday 27th May at Dr Cullen Park, Carlow.

There were no positives to be taken from this shambolic loss which saw Meath end the game with 13 players after losing their disciplined. Foolish second yellow cards were picked up by Brian Meade and Mark Ward in the final 14 minutes.

Those dismissals had no bearing on the outcome, nor did the fact that Meath should have been awarded a free when Ciaran Lenehan was fouled in the build up to Louth's second goal.

The game was over long before any of those particular incidents and while Louth can take credit for their excellent performance, Meath must be aghast at such a pathetic display.

Tackles were missed with alarming regularity, simple passes went astray, distribution was shocking, options weren't there when in possession and the tracking off-the-ball was non-existent.

Louth were able to waltz through the paper-thin Meath rearguard with all the ease of a timid mouse through a church door.

Paddy Keenan and Ronan Carroll dominated a watery Meath midfield.

Meath were woeful in attack - passes were dropped, simple frees were kicked wide and some of the most ridiculous options were taken when decent opportunities were presented.

The heart, passion and will to win that has epitomised Meath football over the last 26 years - since Sean Boylan restored the glory days with Leinster SFC success in 1986 - are missing.

When the battle was lost, Meath resorted to getting dragged into petty arguments and discipline went out the window. The Louth players and supporters loved it, they rubbed salt into the already gaping wounds.

This was a game Meath felt they were capable of winning. The manager suggested that the performances against Derry and Tyrone were mere blips in what was an otherwise decent campaign that saw Meath open with convincing wins over Monaghan and Westmeath before losing in injury-time to Kildare.

However, the shape, sharpness and stability of those early days in February and March have given way to some atrociously inadequate football that culminated in last Sunday's display, a display that must rank even worse than the All-Ireland SFC qualifier defeat by Limerick in 2008.

On reflection, those early season wins came on the back of a lot of pre-season training and Meath were further on in their preparations than most of the other counties. However, over the last few weeks, and particularly on Sunday, Meath looked stuck to the ground.

The cut and thrust of breaking with speed from defence, offering support runners and flooding attack and defence wasn't there. In fact the opposite was true.

Meath weren't capable of tracking the Louth runners. Louth's pace left Meath flat-footed and all too often Meath players were left trailing in their opponents wake.

The nine-point margin of defeat follows on from the 10-point hammering in Omagh and the three-point home defeat by Derry, but this loss was the worst yet.

The absense of Paddy Gilsenan and Kevin Reilly can be held up as some form of excuse, but their presence wouldn't have prevented defeat.

Once again Stephen Bray was one of the few players that offered the passion and drive necessary. Others tried hard and put their necks on the line, but weren't up to the pace or the standard necessary. It is hard to see how matters can improve sufficently ahead of the Leinster SFC.

At least on this occasion there was an improved scoring return from play, but Louth's nine-point winning margin could have been much greater if the visitors had brought their shooting boots and not kicked 11 wides and if David Gallagher hadn't produced a magnificent save to deny Carroll a goal late in the third quarter.

The signs were ominous when Mickey Burke was harshly adjudged to have fouled his hand pass by referee Michael Collins and that allowed Darren Clarke point Louth into a third minute lead.

Adrian Reid doubled Louth's lead with a fine score, but even though Clarke made it 0-4 to 0-0 at the end of the first-quarter Meath still had reason to believe because Louth were playing with the advantage of a strong breeze blowing into the O'Mahonys end. That belief didn't last long.

In the 20th minute, seconds after Mark Ward received his first yellow card following a careless tackle, Bray opened Meath's account after a decent burst from Graham Reilly. The luckless Brian Farrell was getting no change from Dessie Finnegan and was replaced, but that didn't help revive Meath's flagging attacking options.

Clarke and Derek Maguire tormented the Meath corner-backs and McEnaney tried to resolve the issue by replacing Chris O'Connor with Ciaran Lenehan seven minutes before the break, but by that stage Meath were already 0-1 to 1-9 adrift with Maguire finding the net for the Wee County.

After two more Meath attacks broke down because of sloppy passing Maguire and Declan Byrne galloped forward to make it 1-11 to 0-1. Meath's woes continued when Cian Ward steered a close range free wide and then dropped a poor effort short to Neil Gallagher.

Carroll raced clear from midfield to put 14 points between the sides before Cian Ward did get off the mark and then Burke added a third point to close the gap to 0-3 to 1-12 at the break.

McEnaney demanded a quick start to the second-half and got it inside 14 seconds when Bray lofted over. After Bray angled a close free wide, the hosts were given a lifeline when Meade intercepted a poor pass by Neil Gallagher and fed to Tom Walsh. The big Walterstown man produced an exquiste finish to the net and the revival was on!

A sweeping Meath move forced a '45', but again Cian Ward missed the target. After it appeared Meath could have had a free in midfield when Lenehan was fouled, Keenan counter-attacked with a quick free to Carroll who found Maguire for his second goal to end the game as a contest.

The rest was academic as Meath lost their shape and became totally tormented by Louth. David Gallagher denied Carroll a third goal before Bryan Menton burst from defence in the 50th minute to add to Meath's woeful tally, 1-5 to 2-13.

Six minutes later Meade received his first yellow card and 60 seconds after that he earned his second. Three more yellow cards for Alan Forde, Seamus Kenny and David Gallagher were followed by a second yellow and a sending off for Mark Ward as Meath's day went from bad to worse.

Down to 13 men, Meath hit points from Cian Ward (two frees) and Graham Reilly, but the day belonged to Louth as they survived relegation with Darren Clarke's sixth point adding the gloss to what was a glorious day of redemption for the visiting Louth supporters and a sorry day for Meath football.

SCORERS

Louth - D Maguire 2-2; D Clarke 0-6 three frees, two '45s'; R Carroll 0-3; A Reid 0-1; P Keenan 0-1; D Byrne 0-1.

Meath - T Walsh 1-0; C Ward 0-3 two frees; S Bray 0-2; M Burke 0-1; B Menton 0-1; G Reilly 0-1.

THE TEAMS

Louth - N Gallagher; P Rath, D Finnegan, G Hoey; D Byrne, J Carr, R Finnegan; P Keenan, R Carroll; D Crilly, M Brennan, A Reid; D Maguire, J McEneaney, D Clarke. Subs - A McDonnell for Brennan 57 mins, L Shevlin for Hoey 63m, B White for Carroll 70m.

Meath - David Gallagher; Mickey Burke, Caoimhin King, Chris O'Connor; Shane McAnarney, Bryan Menton, Donncha Tobin; Brian Meade, Mark Ward; Seamus Kenny, Graham Reilly, Jamie Queeney; Cian Ward, Stephen Bray, Brian Farrell. Subs - Tom Walsh for Farrell 20 mins, Ciaran Lenehan for O'Connor 28m, Alan Forde for Queeney 57m.

REFEREE

Michael Collins (Cork).

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