A fine line between victory and defeat as Meath blitz derails Down
THERE'S a fine line between victory and defeat sometimes.
Thirty seconds into their relegation dogfight with Meath, Down's Connaire Harrison had a chance to get the Mournemen off to a dream start.
An early goal would have been a hammerblow to the Royals and a massive confidence boost for Down who would have been able to reset for the kick-out and go again.
But goalkeeper Andy Colgan blocked Harrison's shot and Meath raced to the other end of the field and won a penalty. Donal Lenihan cracked it home and Down were reeling.
A couple of minutes later, Cillian O'Sullivan cut a swathe through the Mourne rearguard and handpassed a gift-wrapped ball to Graham Reilly at the back post. Reilly couldn't miss. It was 2-0 to 0-0 and Down never recovered.
“It's amazing how the game swings,” said O'Sullivan after Meath's 4-14 to 1-14 win.
“We could have been a goal down and then Andy spread himself well – great block – and then we went up the pitch and got a penalty. The dynamic of the game could have been totally different if Down's goal had gone in.”
This Meath team is packed with pace and the pitch at Pairc Tailteann suits speedsters like Eamonn Wallace and O'Sullivan who caused havoc in the Down defence almost every time he got on the ball.
“It was real Championship pace,” he said.
“It was a do-or-die game for both teams so when there is that little bit extra on the line you knew it was going to be that intense, quick game.
“With the dry weather, a dry ball and a fast pitch it was always going to be that up and down fast game.
“You needed that bit of pace to survive out there and I was huffing and puffing after 10 minutes, it was tough going. You have to make sure the body language is good so you don't show the fella marking you that you're hurting, but inside your lungs are about to explode out of you.
“It was about keeping going, keeping playing the system and sticking to the plan. It's more relief now than anything else because we didn't want to be in this situation in the first place.
“We still have to beat Louth next weekend but this was the big one – if we'd lost today that was us going down and that's not where Meath football wants to be. It's not where I want to be.
“Relief is the main emotion. There's no sense of joy or anything. It's just relief.”
Sunday's nine-point win was Meath's first since February 4 when they beat Clare. Since then there were losses against Cavan, Tipp and Cork and a few clear-the-air meetings too according to O'Sullivan.
“We started well in the League and then just fell apart really,” he said.
“A couple of tough conversations and meetings were had and it was do-or-die essentially today but the aim is to produce those kind of performances when it's not do-or-die. We want to get that consistency so we don't have relegation hanging over us and we can finally play the way we want to play and play with the intensity that we want to play.
“It's about getting that mindset where we're playing at that pace and that level all the time.”
Sunday's win meant Meath leapfrogged Down by moving to five points (Down have four) and victory over Louth in Drogheda on Sunday guarantees their survival and the Mournemen's relegation.
“It would be a shame if we were to go and lose to Louth next weekend,” said O'Sullivan.
“But there's history between Meath and Louth and we'll have to be at the top of our game if we're going to beat them, especially in Drogheda, it's a narrow, heavy pitch up there.”