Experimental Meath well beaten in Mayo
The harsh reality of football against one of the top teams in country hit Meath hard in Castlebar today as they suffered a heavy 3-17 to 2-12 NFL Div 2 North defeat and will now face Kildare in a promotion play-off in two weeks time.
There can be some solace taken from the fact that this was very much an experimental Meath side with 10 changes from the side that started the previous round against Down and when some experience was added to the mix at half-time Meath actually won the second period, 1-7 to 0-6.
Mayo also made several changes from their win over Westmeath, but their greater experience, intensity and familiarity of playing at a higher level was obvious from the off and left Meath's young guns enduring a chastening experience.
It took the hosts just 90 seconds to expose frailities in the Meath rearguard as Matthew Ruane cut through the middle on a searing run and laid off to Darren McHale to open the scoring.
Two minutes later Cillian O'Connor opened his account from a free and by the seventh minute he added Mayo's third point from a mark to make it 0-3 to 0-0.
Jack O'Connor showed a tremendous turn of pace to open Meath's account a minute later, but Mayo continued to impress in the blistering heat as Cillian O'Connor converted another free to restore his side's three-point cushion.
Debutant Jack Flynn marked his first appearance in a Meath jersey with a pointed free, but he was wayward from a couple of other long range efforts as Michael Plunkett replied to make it 0-5 to 0-2.
With the game threatening to get away from them Meath managed to restore parity when Brian Conlon bundled the ball to the net after Jason Scully's shot was well saved by Robbie Hennelly.
However that was only temporary respite as Ruane and Fergal Boland added further points to stretch Mayo's lead to 0-7 to 1-2 at the water break.
When play resumed Meath were hit with a sucker punch as they were denied a free out for obvious overcarrying and as the visitors protested Bryan Walsh cut through on goal before being fouled by Bryan Menton. Cillian O'Connor made no mistake from the penalty spot to open up a five-point lead.
Two minutes later Mayo had the ball in the net again when James Carr punched Diarmuid O'Connor's centre to the net. The referee consulted with his umpires about a possible square ball, but the score was awarded and when Mayo won Harry Hogan's next kickout Carr pointed to make it 2-8 to 1-2 - it was game over in a three minute spell.
The next six points were shared with Eamon Wallace and James Conlon (two frees) seeing their scores cancelled out by Cillian O'Connor, McHale and Walsh, before Carr struck a brilliant third goal in the fourth minute of injury-time to secure a 3-11 to 1-5 interval lead for the Connacht side.
With Cillian O'Connor and Lee Keegan withdrawn by Mayo at half-time and Shane McEntee, Donal Keogan and Padraic Harnan brought on by Meath it turned the tide marginally in the visitors favour.
A fine score from Wallace and a converted free from Conlon gave Meath hope despite a pointed reply from Paul Towey.
That hope grew further when Menton produced a stunning finish from a narrow angle to beat Hennelly all ends up and when Conlon pointed from play to make it 2-8 to 3-12 with 28 minutes remaining, Meath sensed a comeback.
However, those aspirations were quickly extinguished when Eoin Harkin picked up a black card for an off-the-ball infringement. The returning Aidan O'Shea pointed with his first touch, but Conor McGill was also black card for his late block on Walsh in the build up to the score.
Despite being down to 13 players Meath stayed in touch with Mickey Newman marking his return from injury with a pointed free in exchange with a Ruane score which left Mayo 3-14 to 2-9 ahead at the second water break.
Walsh extended Mayo's lead when play resumed and with both sides making multiple changes in the final quarter there was an exchange of scores with three Newman points (two frees) adding to Meath's tally as Towey closed Mayo's account as they eased across the finish line.
Mayo - Cillian O'Connor 1-4 1-0 penalty, three frees, one mark; James Carr 2-1; Paul Towey 0-3 two frees; Bryan Walsh 0-2; Darren McHale 0-2; Matthew Ruane 0-2; Michael Plunkett 0-1; Fergal Boland 0-1; Aidan O'Shea 0-1.
Meath - Michael Newman 0-4 three frees; James Conlon 0-4 three frees; Bryan Menton 1-0; Brian Conlon 1-0; Eamon Wallace 0-2; Jack O'Connor 0-1; Jack Flynn 0-1 free.
Mayo - Robbie Hennelly; Eoin O'Donoghue, Oisin Mullen, Lee Keegan; Michael Plunkett, Stephen Coen, Fergal Boland; Mattie Ruane, Diarmuid O'Connor; Jack Carney, Darren McHale, Bryan Walsh; Ryan O'Donoghue, Cillian O'Connor, James Carr. Subs - Paul Towey for C O'Connor, Colm Boyle for Keegan both half-time, Aidan O'Shea for Carney, Eoghan McLaughlin for Boland both 47 mins, Darren Coen for O'Donoghue 60m, Jordan Flynn for McHale 62m, Tommy Conroy for Carr 65m.
Meath - Harry Hogan; Seamus Lavin, Conor McGill, Eoin Harkin; Cathal Hickey, Brian Conlon, David Dillon; Bryan Menton, Jack Flynn; Eamon Wallace, Jason Scully, Joey Wallace; James Conlon, Darragh Campion, Jack O'Connor. Subs - Shane McEntee for Conlon, Padraic Harnan for Hickey, Donal Keogan for Dillon all half-time, Danny Dixon for Campion 40 mins, Michael Newman for Scully 49m, Keith Curtis for Conlon 60m, Liam Byrne for Hogan 62m.
Referee - Martin McNally (Monaghan).