First off, the majority of what you are about to read concerns the nuts and bolts of Meath’s win over Wicklow. For, if one was to dwell too long on misgivings about the venue thereof too many column inches would be wasted. That wouldn’t do justice to a fine effort by Mick O’Dowd’s team. Suffice to say that it must be considered an absolute disgrace in this day and age that one’s personal circumstances should preclude you from attending a sports fixture. Or any other sort of event for that matter. Similar problems were experienced with another venue about a decade ago. A fairly public airing of grievances did the trick at the time. Hopefully somebody in the relevant places will see this now and do what’s necessary. Consult Thomond Park or a few racecourses for details!
Meath forward Eamon Wallace
Anyway, on to the game. To say Aughrim wouldn’t be the easiest place to win would constitute being kind. Yet, there were many admirable traits on show as Meath continued to evolve with a competent, workmanlike display at the Wicklow venue. One which confirmed a few theories and also provided a few eye openers regarding what might lie ahead.
Confirmed was the feeling that Meath possess a forward unit capable of doing serious damage. That three of the sextet didn’t register and 1-17 was still clocked up speaks volumes. So too does the fact that experienced performers such as Brian Farrell and Joe Sheridan began the evening’s proceedings on the bench. The latter went on to demonstrate that he certainly still has plenty to offer when given the opportunity.
That’s not to say, mind you, that the performance wasn’t without flaws. Indeed, were it not for Kevin Reilly’s fortuitous goal – the second such strike essayed by the skipper this season – things could’ve been far more difficult. The half backs looked decidedly shaky, particularly early on, and the fact that three of the starting forwards failed to register will have to be altered if further progress is to be made.
Still, there’s been enough negativity in certain places for too long. Let’s focus on the many positives that can be taken from a perennially difficult assignment well negotiated. Chief among the plus points would be the affirmation of the view that the two Reillys – Kevin and Graham – are among the best in their respective positions in the country when on form.
Conor Gillespie’s display was also noteworthy. The Summerhill clubman’s performance against Kildare last year introduced him to the greater football world and time has shown that himself and Brian Meade make a very effective combination. Their importance to the team does, however, highlight how beneficial it would be were some midfield ‘cover’ to emerge as the loss of either could be seriously detrimental to Meath’s ambitions.
Eamon Wallace had a championship debut to remember, also. The pace possessed by the Ratoath player has been well documented – as well as having manifested itself in other sporting codes – but his ability to pick off classy and important scores – like the three he annexed in Aughrim – marks him down as a key factor in just how far Meath’s summer journey will progress.
Perhaps, though, the greatest plaudits from an all round pleasing night must go to two men whose family names have been synonymous with Meath teams being successful for years – Paddy O’Rourke and Padraic Harnan. I’d venture to suggest that it was the Skryne custodian’s best display to date in the Royal colours. A step up, even, from his efforts against Fermanagh in the league – after which the same thing was said!
With no disrespect to the other half backs, it was Moynalvey youngster Harnan who provided chief resistance when Wicklow came charging at Meath after half time. More than that, he looked more old hand than newcomer and rounded off a memorable maiden outing by slotting over a memorable score at an important stage in the second period.
So, after all that, how does the bigger picture look going forward? Well, the good and the not so good of the Aughrim adventure has been well detailed. What’s beyond question is that a further sizable step will be needed to conquer Wexford. Remember, were it not for the fact that Ben Brosnan endured a dire day’s free taking, the purple and gold had every chance of defeating Dublin.
Though eventually losing to Monaghan, Meath – at times at least – showed enough to suggest that Croke Park can still bring out the best in them. They’ll need every bit of it. Mention was given moments ago to how close Wexford came to beating Dublin last year, Jim Gavin’s side seem to be on a different planet to everybody this term, including Meath. It’d be nice to get a chance to test ourselves against them, though!
FOGRA: There was deep sadness in Dunboyne and further afield following the passing of Jim Reilly, Dunboyne legend and All Ireland SFC winner of 1954. Three of his sons also represented Meath with distinction at various levels. Sympathy is extended to Jim’s wife, Frances, his sons Anthony, Peter, Brendan and Leo, daughters Deirdre, Denise and Colette, his brothers and the extended Reilly family.