Meath 1-11 Dublin 2-19
It took Dublin 35 years to make it back for a league game against Meath at Páirc Tailteann, but it took them only 35 minutes to end it as a contest.
Dublin, who played with the benefit of a strong wind in the first half, led 1-11 to 1-2 at the break and a Meath comeback never looked on the cards at any stage during a tame second half in which Dessie Farrell’s men were all too comfortable in this Division Two encounter.
Killian O’Gara was hugely impressive for Dublin, while Brian Fenton bossed matters in the middle of the field as the visitors refused to grant the crowd at a sold out Páirc Tailteann any opportunity to believe an upset could be on the cards.
This rivalry, for now, remains one only alive in memory.
Afterwards, Colm O’Rourke didn’t try to dress it up. The hope in Meath is that O’Rourke, in his first year at the helm, can reignite the spirit of old and help the county rediscover its footballing swagger. But the job might be tougher than even he imagined, the mountain might not be one Meath will summit in the foreseeable future.
“We got a going over, from start to finish,” O’Rourke said. “It just demonstrates the long road ahead for us to be a match for Dublin, who are maybe in the top two or three. We are a long, long way behind.
“The Derry and Dublin games in the league have demonstrated that to us. We have a very, very long road to travel.
“We can’t make any excuses, we were outplayed. I know they have some of the greatest players we have ever seen playing football, but at the same time it was disappointing that we weren’t able to put up a better fight against them.”
The visitors harnessed the benefit of the wind immediately and were 0-3 to no score up inside five minutes.
Dessie Farrell said afterwards that Dublin had lost the toss, indicating Meath chose to play against the wind in the first half, which was a strange decision.
Meath registered eight first-half wides to Dublin’s four. David O’Hanlon’s accuracy from kick-outs caused Meath problems and the pace of Dublin’s counterattacks also exposed the home defence regularly, while Cormac Costello’s movement had them in bother.
Meath’s 20th-minute goal was a fortuitous one, Diarmuid Moriarty laying off possession to Mathew Costello, whose looping shot from the left of the posts was intended for a point but dropped short and in under the crossbar at O’Hanlon’s back post, 0-7 to 1-2.
But Dublin quickly took the sting out of the cool March air. It proved to be Meath’s last score of the half, while Dublin tagged on 1-4 without reply to lead by nine at the interval.
You could consider Dublin’s goal in the last minute of the half to be unfortunate, or you could admire the clinical execution of the visitors’ counterattack. Meath, who had committed numbers forward, had a goal chance blocked down in the Dublin goalmouth and as both teams scrambled for possession, a free out was awarded.
Dublin immediately sniffed blood and launched a rapid counterattack as Meath scurried back to try prevent what from way out looked like a certain goal. Eoin Murchan scorched the grass with a run through the middle of the field before picking out O’Gara, who made no mistake with his close-range finish.
O’Gara added a point seconds later and his late first-half 1-1 all but ended the game as a contest. After a few minutes of the second half it was clear Meath would not be able to use the wind as an ally in launching high ball on top of their full-forward line, because Dublin continued to set the tempo and control the play.
They led 1-18 to 1-5 by the hour mark before a late spurt by Meath in which Aaron Lynch and Jack Flynn kicked some nice points. Lynch had a goal chance saved by O’Hanlon late on, but there was to be another goal in the contest – Cormac Costello palming home in the fourth minute of injury-time after a brilliant run and centre by Colm Basquel.
“I think we brought more consistency to our play today than we had done in previous games,” said Farrell, who confirmed afterwards that Evan Comerford would not feature in the league because of injury.
“The consistency across the four quarters, we had been lacking in that in some of our previous performances. The last day against Derry was an example of that, very good in the first half, very poor in the second half.
“So trying to remove that Jekyll and Hyde element from our game, we spent some time on that during the week, and it was good to see that come to fruition.
“It was going to be one of those types of days where the wind was going to play a big factor, given the strength of it.”
If the dejected Meath fans leaving Páirc Tailteann were hoping this might just be a small blip along the way, O’Rourke wasn’t about to predict a short-term solution.
“When you build a new team, and I’ve seen it myself on many occasions in my own time playing, there can be a lot of very big disappointments on the way to getting there,” he said.
“We just have to come back from that, put our heads down, get working again. This process isn’t going to be done in weeks or months – it may take years.”
For Farrell and Dublin, a return to Division One now awaits. They left Páirc Tailteann with barely a scratch.
“You wouldn’t know what to expect coming to Navan, it’s 35 years and that huge rivalry and the tradition that is there between Dublin and Meath over the years,” said Farrell.
“I think it’s challenging for the squad and Colm at the minute, a new manager coming in and trying to put his own stamp on things. Might be a little bit of uncertainty and low self-belief in the group, but that can change overnight, one or two good performances, and I wouldn’t want to be taking anything for granted come summertime.”
Perhaps more worrying for Meath was the sight of their captain, Donal Keogan, limping off late on.
“It looks like a hamstring, so more injury problems on top of a good few already,” said O’Rourke. “From that point of view it has been a costly game on the injury point of view. Look, to get a hiding like that isn’t nice.”
A bad day for Meath. Perhaps they won’t mind if Dublin stay away for another 35 years.
MEATH: Harry Hogan; Adam O’Neill, Michael Flood, Harry O’Higgins; Donal Keogan, Padraic Harnan, Cathal Hickey (0-1); Ronan Jones, Jack Flynn (0-3, one 45); Jack O’Connor, Jason Scully, Shane Crosby; Jordan Morris, Mathew Costello (1-2, one free), Diarmuid Moriarty (0-2, one free).
Subs: Cillian O’Sullivan for O’Connor, Dáithi McGowan for Crosby, Aaron Lynch (0-2) for Morris (all h-t); Donal Lenihan (0-1) for Scully (55 mins); Eoin Harkin for Keogan (61).
DUBLIN: David O’Hanlon; Daire Newcombe, David Byrne, Michael Fitzsimons; John Small, Eoin Murchan, Lee Gannon (0-2); James McCarthy, Brian Fenton (0-4, one free); Niall Scully, Ciarán Kilkenny (0-1), Tom Lahiff; Killian O’Gara (1-3), Con O’Callaghan (0-4), Cormac Costello (1-4, one free, one 45).
Subs: Seán Bugler (0-1) for Scully (28 mins); Brian Howard for Lahiff (55); Colm Basquel for O’Gara (62); Cian Murphy for Gannon (70).
Referee: Conor Lane (Cork).