Darragh Campion in action for Meath during the NFL Div 2 loss to Armagh

BOYLAN TALKS SPORT: Leaving the Orchard with a sour taste in the mouth

When he had penned his last column for the Sunday Independent, Colm O’Rourke was asked what was his favourite production in the quarter century of musings. Without hesitation, the now Meath manager plumped for the piece woven having guided Simonstown Gaels to their first Meath SFC success in 2016.

An understandable nomination. Firstly because, between St Patrick’s CS and the north Navan club itself, he had moulded the careers of the vast majority of the players in blue and navy. Also, however, because his son Shane was front and centre and pivotal to the success.

All at a time when the gifted son of the gifted father had performed miracles by being on a pitch at all. Shane's was a career which could have been anything, but was cruelly destroyed by a succession of ravaging injuries.

Colm began the piece by quoting the chorus from Van Morrison’s hit ‘Days Like This’. If he’s anything like me as I sit in the back of the van on the way back from Armagh typing, he may again be seeking the Antrim man’s lyrics. Only this time for crumbs of comfort.

From the time he assumed the role he made no secret of the fact that he felt there would be days (or nights) like this. A chastening one, on my first sojourn to the Athletic Grounds. Which means these wheels have now docked in 24 of the 32 county grounds around the country.

Before getting to the bumps in the road - literal and metaphorical - I must congratulate all associated with Armagh GAA on their most excellent disabled viewing facilities and the large number of patient, helpful stewards on hand to guide a group of ‘tourists’ - including two disabled persons - around their wonderful home. Another venue to put Croke Park to shame.

Armagh 2-16 Meath 0-10Meath , during the Armagh v Meath, Allianz National Football League, Division 2 Round 2 game, at BOX-IT Athletic Grounds, Armagh.Photo: Gerry Shanahan-www.cyberimages.net03-02-2024 Photo by Gerry Shanahan

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the parking facilities in St Patrick’s Academy, adjacent to the ground. The attendants in situ couldn’t have been more helpful, but what were masquerading as speed ramps actually more resembled craters from a different time in history. Where once it would have been common practice to check under vehicles for altogether more terrifying reasons, in our case it was just to make sure the exhaust box was still in tow!

A few lights in the car park wouldn’t go astray either. Mind you, it’s quite probable the Meath entourage would take any source of light after a gruelling shift against Kieran McGeeney’s side.

It had all started so differently for the visitors. Cian McBride - who was a late replacement for Cathal Hickey - took command of possession from the throw in and soon thereafter Aaron Lynch clipped over a fine point.

Meath were on top at that stage, though a succession of softly awarded frees allowed Conor Turbit keep the locals upsides after Lynch, Eoghan Frayne, Mat Costello (free) and McBride (mark) had all chalked up fine points.

At 0-5 apiece with five minutes to go to half time, things looked more than satisfactory from our viewpoint. However, five minutes is an eternity at that level of football.

Now, there’s no good time to concede a goal, but there’s hardly a worse time to concede two of them than either side of the short whistle.

Yet that is exactly the fate which befell O’Rourke’s troops here. As Cian McConville and Conor Mackin raised green flags for the Orchard County. The ‘majors’ obliterated whatever scintilla of hope Meath may have been clinging to. People sometimes marvel at how I manage to manufacture morsels of positivity but even I left the Orchard tonight with a sour taste in the mouth.

Armagh 2-16 Meath 0-10Meath Senior football manager, Colm O'Rourke, , during the Armagh v Meath, Allianz National Football League, Division 2 Round 2 game, at BOX-IT Athletic Grounds, Armagh.Photo: Gerry Shanahan-www.cyberimages.net03-02-2024 Photo by Gerry Shanahan

Germinated from disappointment, nothing more. Meath were out-thought, outpaced and overpowered physically once McGeeney’s men got their dander up, but do not use that as a stick with which to beat them,

Fergal Lynch made the valid point during the week that Meath are quite possibly the youngest most inexperienced panel competing in the entire NFL. That needs to be inserted as a caveat before any judgements are rushed to.

On Saturday, the faced an Armagh side just down from Div 1, who are considerably longer on the road together and into either their tenth or eleventh campaign with the same manager. Meath presently can’t tick any of those boxes.

You’ll no doubt say ‘if my aunt was kitted out differently she’d be my uncle’ but if either of the goals could’ve been prevented they would’ve been bang there throughout the contest.

No matter. We are where we are. An honest appraisal, though, would admit the prospects of getting anything from the boys from the Co Armagh would have been a tall order.

What can be said, however, is that the draw against Fermanagh can now be seen in a better light in view of the fact that the Erne County defeated Kildare on Saturday evening.

The point garnered at Pairc Tailteann 11 days ago could yet prove crucial. Especially in the context that Cork and Kildare have been beaten twice.

Have no doubt, all in the Meath camp will be smarting presently, but, with the red (and white) eh, flags, coming to town in a couple of weeks, it’s time to channel our inner bull!