Meath worlds apart as Wicklow left far adrift in Navan
Graham Reilly marshals young Royal County side perfectly in one-sided rout in Navan
Meath’s Graham Reilly kicks for goal as Jamie Snell and Ross O’Brien of Wicklow try to block during the Bord na Mona O’Byrne Cup match at Páirc Tailteann in Navan. Photograph: Colm O’Neill/Inpho
Meath 2-22 Wicklow 0-9
A couple of teams living in different worlds in Navan. Meath were decent here, Wicklow were at nothing. Not a jibe, just a grim fact of life.
Johnny Magee is starting his third season in charge of Wicklow and has seen the makings of a couple of teams come and go in that time. He gave us a long, impassioned and ultimately fatalistic soliloquy afterwards on the difficulty of selling a Wicklow career to youngsters who pitch up in the club championship with a bit about them. In the end, he knows he usually has to keep his thumb on the scale to find a buyer.
“There are 12 lads gone either travelling or can’t commit or won’t commit so you are trying to get consistency. I hate saying it but we have turned over 30 players since I have taken over as manager. The 21s were under the umbrella of the senior these last couple of seasons and we are trying to have it where we have the right fitness levels into the guys, we have been playing catch up since we took over.
“So would Meath be ahead of us in terms of strength and conditioning? Yes they would. So it’s hard to get consistency when you don’t have the same team out. This year we are missing Aaron Murphy, Danny Woods – lads who would be in your top 20 or 18. You are not replacing like with like.”
The upshot was a game where the difference in physique, fitness and game intelligence between Magee’s side and Meath was stark, even for this time of year. Andy McEntee’s side kicked 2-19 from play and at times, Wicklow literally couldn’t keep it kicked out to them. If we learned nothing really about what lies ahead in 2017 for Meath, there’s no mystery in what the year holds for Wicklow.
Meath had 1-4 on the board before Wicklow managed a shot and had kicked on to 1-7 before Paddy Byrne chipped a close-in free to get the visitors up and running after 18 minutes. Cillian O’Sullivan slid home the opening goal on eight minutes having been picked out by a quick free from Graham Reilly. Reilly was announced over the PA system beforehand as the Meath captain for the year and looked every inch the responsible parent to McEntee’s youngish side all day.
The quality players for Meath underlined their status throughout. Donal Keogan was implacable at the back, Bryan Menton and Reilly were forceful through the middle. O’Sullivan and Bryan McMahon marked themselves out as players to keep an eye on through the year, buzzing around the forward line as they pleased and splitting 2-5 between them from play.
It was 1-13 to 0-2 at half-time and matters only improved marginally after the break. Any Wicklow resistance came off the bench, with John McGrath and to a lesser extent Seánie Furlong entitled to be happy with their day’s work. Otherwise, Meath were untroubled by it all.
“You’re looking for certain things at this time of year,” said McEntee afterwards, “and the effort and the tempo and physicality and all those sort of things were certainly good in the first half. I’d say it all died a bit in the second half and that’s kind of a mental thing rather than a physical thing. Hopefully we can work on that.
“I’d like to get more of what we saw there today. I think there’s a couple of values that we like to see in our team and we hope to show them time and time again. I thought the work rate was good, even though we dropped a bit in the second half. But the appetite and intensity was good and that’s one of the things that’s non-negotiable I suppose.”
MEATH: Jack Hannigan; Donal Keogan, Donnacha Tobin (0-1), Mickey Burke; Conor Downey (0-1), Shane McEntee, Seán Curran (0-3); Bryan Menton (0-1), Cian O’Brien (0-1); Cillian O’Sullivan (1-2), Graham Reilly (0-3), Paddy Kennelly (0-1); Kevin Ross (0-1), Fiachra Ward (0-4, 0-3 frees), Bryan McMahon (1-3).
Subs: Seán Tobin for Ward (38 mins); Ruairí Ó Coileáin for O’Sullivan (55 mins); Adam Flanagan for Kennelly (55 mins); David McQuillan for Burke (62 mins); Willie Carry (0-1) for Downey (63 mins); Donal Lenihan for McMahon (63 mins).
WICKLOW: Robert Lambert; Ciaran Hyland, Jamie Snell, Brendan Kennedy; John Crowe, Ross O’Brien, Darren Hayden; Anthony McLoughlin, David Boothman; Rory Finn, Conor Ffrench, Mark Kenny; Paddy Byrne (0-1, free), Gary Allen, Michael O’Connor.
Subs: John McGrath (0-6, four frees) for Allen (19 mins); Dean Healy for Boothman (half-time); Seán Furlong (0-2) for O’Connor (half-time); Eoin Murtagh for Boothman (57 mins); Mark Fitzsimons for Ffrench (58 mins); Martin Cullen for Crowe (59 mins).
Referee: Niall Ward (Westmeath)