With Division 2 being the most competitive it has at least appeared in the last few years, Colm O’Rourke’s maiden outing in the Allianz National Football League could hardly have looked more fire and brimstone than taking on the Rebel County by the banks of their own lovely Lee.
Now, things have changed drastically in the game since the Meath boss and his opposite number to John Cleary faced off as players but the rivalry between the sides is as keen as ever. As evidenced when – after the home side had opened the brighter with the first two points – Meath hit back with a goal which was to signpost the rest of the day.
The mesmeric Shane Walsh beat his man to possession, rounded him and blasted past Micheal Aodh Martin in the Cork goal. Though the home side did reply with a flurry of points – including a Stephen Sherlock ’45’ after Mattie Taylor’s piledriver was brilliantly thwarted by Harry Hogan – O’Rourke’s charges again hit back with points from Walsh, Jordan Morris, Mathew Costello and Cillian O’Sullivan.
Indeed, they were very unlucky not to fill the red onion bag again, only failing to do so after the son of An Tainaiste produced a tremendous double save from firstly Jason Scully and then the in-rushing Morris. Still, having taken a while to settle to their task, the visitors won’t have been too perturbed at trailing by 1-06 to 0-11 at the break.
They underlined as much when Morris and Walsh pointed in the first two minutes of the second half to get them back to parity. The home side then accounted for the three points thereafter before that man Walsh cut the deficit to two before the first pivotal turning point in the game arrived.
Affecting one of many second half turnovers, Meath broke at pace with Scully going straight down the centre of the Cork defence before laying off to Morris who guided the ball home to put the green and gold back in front, 2-09 to 0-14.
That proved to be the catalyst for them to enjoy their best spell in the game as points followed from Walsh (two, one Mark) and substitute Jack O’Connor pushed the underdogs four clear entering the final quarter. The very accurate Sherlock did pull a point back for Cleary’s charges before Hogan again repelled the best they could throw at him.
The Longwood clubman – whose brother Billy has also featured between the posts for the county this term – showed the reflexes of a cheetah to twice deny Cork replacement John O’Rourke from point blank range. Feats such as that can be of immeasurable lift to a team and when, moments later, Cillian O’Sullivan drilled low to the Cork net the Royal County may well have been in orbit for a few seconds on foot of what was a six point swing.
Castlehaven’s Sherlock, to his credit, kept his side’s interests flickering but Meath weren’t to be denied and late scores Cathal Hickey, Morris and debuting substitute Diarmuid Moriarity ensured both points made the long trip North East.
One is at pains not to resemble a hard-pulling racehorse that drains of fuel early, thus neglecting the furlongs still to be covered, but as a horse training mutual acquaintance of this writer and the Meath manager is wont to say “Little fish are sweet!”
MEATH: H. Hogan; J. O’Hare, M. Flood, C. Hickey (0-1); E. Harkin, D. Keogan, D. O’Neill; R. Jones, D. McGowan; C. O’Sullivan (1-1), J. Scully, D. Campion; J. Morris (1-2), M. Costello (0-2), S. Walsh (1-7).
Subs; A. O’Neill for D. O’Neill, H. O’Higgins for O’Hare, J. O’Connor (0-1) for Harkin, D. Moriarity (0-1) for McGowan, S. Crosbie for O’Sullivan.
Referee: B. Cawley (Kildare)