There are times you don’t want to be right. Times, too, when it’s best to let emotions cool a little before commenting on happenings. Yet, the inescapable fact is that the refereeing in Meath’s game against Tyrone was extremely poor. And that’s the nicest way one could put it. Meath could, rightly, feel at the very least hard done by over a plethora of dubious calls that went against them. It’s not the first time that’s been the case in similar circumstances and it’s something those in a position to need to act on.
Meaths Padraic Harnan
Strip away the tribalism, the fire and brimstone that always bubbles when you feel wronged, and the reality is, despite very poor officiating, it was a game Meath gave themselves a right chance of winning but, despite heroic honesty, effort and commitment, were unable to close it out.
In another way, though, it was a case of worst fears becoming reality. In the build up to the game, the point was made that curbing the influence of the Cavanagh brothers was going to be crucial to Royal County chances. Colm Cavanagh did, as expected, tire and was ultimately replaced. Sean, however, wreaked havoc when it mattered most and, ultimately that was the deciding factor.
Sean Cavanagh – rightly acknowledged as one of the greatest players of his generation – demonstrated that he still retains all class and skill he’s famed for and in the end that carried the day for Mickey Harte’s team. That, and the little bit extra that’s all part of knowing how to win.
Some of the extra Tyrone indulged in was close to, if not over, the boundary line, but they won’t care about that. From this seat – and I suspect it’s a view that’ll be shared by many – the biggest feeling will be one of heartbreak at a great chance that got away. Mick O’Dowd said: “When we did go ahead, we didn’t kick on. That was the problem. We could’ve gone two or three up and that’s what we needed to do”.
That ability is down to knowhow and will come. Gut feeling says that Meath’s greatest undoing came from not gaining enough from the stranglehold they seemed to enjoy in the early stages of the game. And as is often the case in these situations, once Sean Cavanagh’s influence on proceedings began to grow they were made pay.
Meath’s management do, in fairness, deserve the utmost credit for the manner in which they reorganised things at half time. Thus curbing Cavanagh’s influence and, moreover, allowing themselves back into the game thanks to some exquisite points from Eamon Wallace and a penalty from Mickey Newman that was as good as there’s likely to be hit in Croke Park for many a day.
Al Pacino was right, mind you, these things are generally decided by inches. Meath coughed up a number of chances to embellish their position after the penalty and another sublime effort from Wallace. Their cause wasn’t helped, of course, as Tyrone’s repeated and unpunished cynicism thwarted their efforts when they had momentum with them.
Still, painful as this defeat undoubtedly was, momentum is, ironically, one of the biggest things Meath players and management can take from what was unquestionably a season that they can be proud of.
In comparison to the shambles at the end of last term that might seem a tad odd given that the team got within three points of Dublin then, finished seven adrift this time and exited outright at the same stage. These things need perspective. League promotion had to be attained and was. It must be acknowledged also that Dublin have moved on considerably from 2012.
More noteworthy, perhaps, is the fact that Meath’s two best displays this season came against inhabitants of the top tier – Tyrone and Dublin. At least there’s evidence we can compete manfully against them. Furthermore, Meath are only likely to become even more competitive and the journey they are on is only likely to get even better.
You’d hope that those in charge would recognise that stability is now more key than ever before. In other words, that the bones of the current management structure would be left in situ for the foreseeable future, if they so wish.
Wallace, Newman and Padraic Harnan emerged as stellar ‘discoveries’ this year. These players are only liable to improve with experience. Andy Tormey looks on the verge of a big breakthrough. It’d be hoped others like Davy Dalton, Eoghan Harrington, Shane O’Rourke and Cian Ward could return to the fold too.
Ratoath’s Bryan McMahon also seems sure to garner further experience while there are numerous players from this year’s U-21 panel and the last couple of minor squads that could add plenty to the mix. Only a personal view here, but, the return of Moynalvey’s Cillian O’Sullivan could be the biggest boost of all.
The tank might be empty for now, but the glass is half full and there’s plenty more on tap!