Meath hoping to secure Ring Cup final spot

Story by Jimmy Geoghegan

Friday, 7th June, 2019 12:00pm

Meath hoping to secure Ring Cup final spot

Meath hurling.jpg

More of the same for Meath tomorrow as manager Nick Fitzgerald named the same 15 that beat Roscommon last Saturday for the Christy Ring Cup semi-final clash with Derry in Athletic Grounds Armagh, 2pm.

That means there is still no return for the injured Eamon o Donnchadha, so his place goes to Callum O'Sullivan with Barry Slevin making the most of his chance by retaining his number 11 shirt.

Fitzgerald will bring his team to the Athletic Grounds, Armagh on Saturday for a semi-final clash with Derry fully aware that while the statistics might look impressive there is still a lot of issues to be sorted; little kinks in the system that need to be ironed out.
Yet despite the challenges they face, Meath should do enough to secure their place in the final and a chance to play once more in Croke Park. 
Certainly Fitzgerald had no qualms in admitting his side has issues to be addressed after he had watched them defeat Roscommon on Saturday adding that Derry have the the know-how and physical presence to take full advantage of any failings. 
To underline that belief he pointed to the fact that Derry is a team backboned by a contingent of players from Slaughtneil - including the much-heralded Brendan Rogers - who have won two Ulster SHC titles in recent years. The Oak Leaf county also recorded impressive wins over Down and Donegal. 
Derry finished second in their group behind Down, surprisingly losing to Wicklow (0-16 to 1-16) at Celtic Park last Saturday but Fitzgerald is wary of reading too much into where teams finished in their respective groups. 
“We played Derry in a challenge before Christmas (which Meath won) and they will have them well ready for a semi-final you can be sure of that,” said Fitzgerald.
“They were second in their group but the track record of topping your group as we did, goes out the window now, that’s all forgotten about, we are into real championship hurling now. It’s what happens on the day, if you don’t perform you’re out,” he said. 
While Fitzgerald agrees that semi-finals can be unpredictable affairs in so many ways he is certain of one thing - Derry will be difficult to breakdown and fired up by the prospect of reaching a final. 
There’s something else he’s sure the Ulster side will bring to the Athletic Grounds; something that is as much a part of their make up as those distinctive white jerseys with the red hoop across the middle. 
“Derry have always brought a physical presence, that’s one thing they have shown anytime I’ve seen them over the years and like us they will be viewing Saturday’s game as just one step away from Croke Park.”
To ensure their invitation to the Big House for the final Meath will need to be at their best, Fitzgerald knows that - and against Roscommon, Meath weren’t often at their best.
They did show enough to win but they were unable to put their opponents away, fading for a spell in the lead up to half-time allowing the Connacht side back into the game.
After 22 minutes Meath led 0-7 to 0-4 yet early in the second-half the sides were level. Such fade-outs could prove fatal against Derry. 
Fitzgerald tends to set high standards - like many managers do - as they go in search of the perfect performance knowing in their heart of hearts that it’s an elusive ambition.
As elusive as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but the important thing is to keep trying. 
Not that he was just focusing on the negatives as he stood against the dressing room wall at Athleague on Saturday and reflected on a contest that had tested the mettle of his team. 
He described how the Roscommon game as a classic “dogfight” that his team had “dug themselves out of” showing along the way plenty of “character and spirit.”
He referred to the clash as a “heavy battle” with Roscommon causing Meath plenty of problems “in the middle third.” However, he added, we should also remember Meath had won. 
Yet, like a stone underneath his door, there were aspects of Saturday’s display that clearly troubled Fitzgerald. Aspects of the performance he agreed will need to be looked at this week by him and his selectors before the men from the Oak Leaf County can be engaged with. 
He spoke of how on Saturday Meath at times lacked sparkle.
“We couldn’t seem to string it together for a long period of time. We just seemed very lethargic and pedestrian,” he said admitting that at this stage there is only so much that CAN be done to iron out such kinks. 
“There’s not a whole lot you can do in seven days apart from analyse what you’ve done and look back at what you have done over the last number of games but certainly the level of intensity against Roscommon wouldn’t be high enough for the semi-final.”
A disturbing and sad sight for Fitzgerald on Saturday was watching James Toher leave the field injured.
“James came back worked hard to be fit and we thought he was right, he thought he was right, the medics thought he was right but obviously James is not right and that’s probably the end of his Christy Ring campaign, sadly.”
Another worrying aspect for Meath is the fact that they didn’t score a goal against Roscommon - or even threaten to score one - while Shane McGann was called upon to make two excellent saves.
Eamon O Donnchadha was ruled out of the Roscommon game with injury and Meath will be hoping he’s available on Saturday. 
“It was disappointing that we didn’t create many goal chances and that’s something we have to look at. We never even threatened to get a goal while Shane McGann made two super saves.”
Yet with players such as Damien Healy, Barry Slevin and Jack Regan in excellent and consistent form Meath have more than enough quality to win on Saturday - a point Fitzgerald readily agrees with. When Meath get their passing game going they can be very impressive -and have the forwards to take the chances created. 
Derry have their contingent of strong, resolute performers including Rogers, Brian Og Gilligan and Richie Mullan, but Meath won last Saturday without playing particularly well.
That, they say, is a sign of a good team and Meath have an ideal chance to show just how good they are at the Athletic Grounds on Saturday.
They should have enough to make the most of their chance and get back to Croke Park. 


Meath (v Derry) - Shane McGann; Ger Murphy, Darragh Kelly, Shane Whitty; Shane Brennan, Keith Keoghan, James Kelly; Sean Geraghty, Cathal McCabe; Damien Healy, Barry Slevin, Jack Regan; Gavin McGowan, Callum O'Sullivan, Alan Douglas.



First round - Derry 3-20, Down 2-14; Wicklow 4-12, Donegal 1-15. 
Second round - Down 2-25, Wicklow 2-19; Derry 0-20, Donegal 1-14.
Third round - Wicklow 1-16, Derry 0-16; Down 7-22, Donegal 2-15.

Table P W D L F A Pts
Down 3 2 0 1 94 75 4
Derry 3 2 0 1 65 56 4
Wicklow 3 2 0 1 68 65 4
Donegal 3 0 0 3 56 87 0



First round - Meath 2-23, London 0-13; Roscommon 0-20, Kildare 1-15.
Second round - London 2-12, Roscommon 1-25; Meath 2-27, Kildare 1-13.
Third round - Meath 0-23, Roscommon 0-19; Kildare 2-19, London 2-16.
Table P W D L F A Pts
Meath 3 3 0 0 85 48 6
Roscommon 3 2 0 1 67 59 4
Kildare 3 1 0 2 59 75 2
London 3 0 0 3 53 72 0


Saturday 8th June - semi-finals: Meath v Derry; Down v Roscommon.
Donegal v London, relegation play-off.
Saturday 22nd June - Meath or Derry v Down or Roscommon, final.

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