Plenty to ponder for Meath manager Nick Weir ahead of Saturday’s trip to Aughrim. Photo: David Mullen / www.quirke.ie

Manager Nick Weir deflated after heavy defeat

ANALYSIS/QUOTES Attitude of players under the microscope

Nick Weir didn't mince his words when he reflected on Meath's 16-point drubbing by Offaly in Pairc Tailteann on Sunday.

His damning assessment of the performance was an indication of his fury at a display that he admitted he simply "didn't see coming."

Like all other sides in the country, Meath's preparation time for the start of what is going to be a grueling few months of action was limited because of Covid restrictions, but that didn't seem to adversely effect Offaly who looked sharper, hungrier and considerably more committed to the cause.

If Meath thought they were moving well at training and that that belief would be sufficient to earn a result against a once proud hurling county like Offaly then they were awoken with a slap to the face.

Apart from a half decent opening quarter Meath were second best all over the field - and lucky to be second best!

Offaly worked harder out of possession than they did when they were on the ball and that unsettled Meath to such an extent that at times they looked like they just gave up - it was that aspect of the performance that frustrated, bewildered and baffled Weir.

"I'm gutted, speechless to be honest. I didn't see that coming at all," admitted Weir.

"We were well prepared coming into the match, but we were out-fought and out-played all over the field.

"Very few lads actually stood up to it today, unfortunately.

"I don't accept that the long lay off had anything to do with that performance today.

"The lads had trained hard on their own and from an individual aspect they had all the hard work done.

"Pride in that jersey goes a long way and Offaly had that today.

"They hunted in packs all over the field and we just let them run through the centre, there was nobody getting their tackles in and to me that's not pride in the jersey at all, they should be standing up more.

"Probably our main man today was Keith Keoghan, he is one of the old stalwarts of the game and he is a prime example of how the game should be played in the Meath jersey," said Weir.

Questioning pride in a jersey isn't an easy thing for any manager to do or to have your pride in the shirt called into doubt isn't a comfortable criticism for any player to hear, but if it elicits a positive response next week against Wicklow then Weir will make no apologies.

However, there was more than just pride missing last Sunday.

Even the basic ease at which Offaly scored their early goal indicated a lack of composure and certainty in the last line of defence.

That unease gave Offaly the oxygen they needed and once they found their flow they were unstoppable.

Oisin Kelly's second minute goal was just the start Offaly needed, but from a Meath perspective it set that tone for the display that followed.

There was little or no pressure applied on Leon Fox as he launched a ball from inside his own half in the direction of the Navan O'Mahonys end. Unsure that his defenders were going to deal with the situation, goalkeeper Charlie Ennis came off his line to win possession, but it was Kelly who got his stick to the ball first and flick to the net.

The other two goals could also have been prevented by more determined defending. Ennis did brilliantly to stop the initial shots for both goals, but rather cruelly the first save fell kindly to Adrian Hynes who found himself in the way of Ennis's deflection and the ball ricocheted to the net.

Offaly's third goal seven minutes into the second-half was quite similar. Another fine stop by Ennis, this time from Kelly's strike, only slowed the progression of the ball, but as Ennis scrambled to his feet to complete the clearance it was Shane Kinsella who reacted quickest to apply the finishing touch in a goalmouth scramble.

The concession of those goals weren't the losing of the game, but the manner of their concession was an indication of how nothing went right for Meath.

Last year when Meath travelled to Birr to take on Offaly in the opening game of NHL Div 2A they ran their more illustrious opponents to two points, but still conceded 26 scores - just two less than last Sunday.

However, at the other end of the field Meath just weren't ruthless enough - last year they managed 1-21, on Sunday they scored just 12 times. Weir admitted that the same hunger wasn't evident in Navan on Sunday as it had been in Birr in 2020.

"You can see the difference compared to the game against them last year. Last year our boys were hunting in packs all over the field, left, right and centre, but today there was none of that, apart from maybe in the first 10 or 15 minutes when they hurled well," admitted Weir.

"After the water break we lost everything, our shape, our composure, our marking around the middle of the field, it all went missing.

"There are loads of things you can pinpoint, any amount of things didn't go well.

"When you have a stat at half-time that shows you have only won eight of your 26 puck-outs, that is not a good sign from our half-forward line or midfield area. "You have to be winning primary possession, but we didn't do that today and Offaly capitalised all over the field. "The water break can be a bit disruptive. We were in control going into the water break today, but then we lost everything going into that second quarter after the break.

"However, when you start the second-half with a gale-force wind and you manage just two points that doesn't say a whole lot," said the manager.

That statistic says a lot about Meath's performance. Weir highlighted the fact that his side managed just two points despite a near hurricane at their backs in the second-half.

The wind was tricky to navigate, but Meath failed to utilise it to its full potential and while Mark O'Sullivan did enjoy a decent final quarter, the full-forward line were starved of decent possession - apart from the odd clever pass into the corners which Offaly quickly got to grips with.

While Weir was clearly frustrated, and as manager he had every right to question his side's level of performance, there were a few green shoots to cling to.

The return of James Toher was a welcome sight and he performed quite well.

Alan Douglas and Keith Keoghan were excellent throughout showing that 'pride' that Weir highlighted.

Substitutes James Kelly and jack McGowan also made a good impression.

Undoubtedly Offaly are the class act in Div 2A and on this level of performance they should gain promotion quite comfortably. Under eight time All-Ireland winning Kilkenny man Michael Fennelly, they look a more determined and focused outfit, so maybe Meath shouldn't use Sunday's display as the yardstick for where they are at - more significant tests lie ahead.

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