Down boss Conor Laverty fuming as wasteful Mournemen lose to Meath

Down's Ross Car tries to drive forward during the defeat to Meath in Parnell Park on Saturday Picture by Louis McNally
Andy Watters at Parnell Park

Tailteann Cup, Group 2, round three

Down 1-9 Meath 1-11


WASTEFUL Down missed out on an automatic quarter-final spot with home advantage as Meath dug in to win in Dublin.  

The game was there for the taking when Down led by two points midway through the second half but Meath kept on pushing and they forced a 45.

“Short, short, SHORT…,” roared manager Conor Laverty as his defence switched off.

Sure enough, Meath did play the ball short and Jack Flynn scored a point.

That was typical of Down on Saturday. There was no lack of effort but this is a team finding it’s way in the GAA world and individual errors cost them a game they could have won.

Seventeen wides (is that a record for a Down team?) was a luxury they could not afford against a Meath side that kept plugging away and got over the line thanks to four points from their substitutes.

Down wasted chance after chance and you can debate their apparent reluctance to push up on kickouts or kick the ball long (they did try it once but it was Pat Havern kicking to Eugene Branagan instead of the other way around) but they lost because they created almost 30 scored opportunities and took just 10.

“Our performance today wasn’t good enough,” said Laverty.

“There was a significant breeze in that game but we didn’t take our chances when they were presented to us.”

Meath benefited from a couple of debatable calls from referee Fergal Kelly too. There was a first half penalty, then a disallowed Down call (the referee called the play back for a free) and then a clear foul on Miceal Rooney which led to the injury-time point that gave the Royals a crucial lead.

Lavery was unequivocal when that point was made to him.

“The referee had nothing to do with the result, I don’t believe,” he said.

“It comes down to our own performance we have to look at.”

Defeat means that Down have to get ready for a preliminary quarter-final next weekend while Meath get a fortnight to prepare for a home quarter-final.

“It was winner-take-all today and we will have to knuckle down at the start of the week and reassess where we are,” said Laverty.

“We have to have a long, hard look at ourselves and make sure that we are performing to the standard we expect. As a management team, we have to take responsibility for that, that was our job to get the players to the pitch and it just wasn’t there today and we have to get to the standard where we can perform week-in, week-out.”

Losing was a blow, but not a knockout blow in this competition. Down at least showed that they can compete with Meath but without the injured Barry O’Hagan and Andrew Gilmore, they lacked a reliable finisher. If they bring their shooting boots next time out they are capable of turning this defeat around.

“There’ll be some positives to take from it,” said Laverty.

“But we have a lot of things to work on but there were certain areas of our game that we just wouldn’t be happy with.

“I think there is good character in this squad and they have trained extremely well over the past number of weeks and their attitude has been absolutely brilliant, I couldn’t fault them, there is no doubt that I feel there will be a response from this performance.”

A Jordan Morris penalty left Meath a point ahead (1-3 to 0-6) at the break and, with a stiff breeze at their backs in the second half, Daniel Guinness soon had Down back on terms. Pat Havern (twice) and Shealan Johnston had blasted wide before the influential Odhran Murdock swapped passes with Eugene Branagan and sent the Mournemen into a two-point lead with a well-taken goal.

Meath’s finishing was often poor too. The Down goal led a charmed life when the ball was sent long into the square and then the Royals somehow managed to mess up a gilt-edged goal chance. Morris could have scored but he passed to Matthew Costello who slapped at the ball and Down somehow survived.

Diathi McGowan’s free levelled it and a Morris point put Meath in front. Havern restored parity for Down but there were wides from Ross Carr, Kane, Liam Kerr and Ryan McEvoy as the Mourne attack continued to misfire.

Kane saved brilliantly from Cathal Hickey (after referee Kelly had ignored a shove on Rooney) and McGowan converted the 45. Donal Lenihan’s free was the last kick of the game.

Afterwards Meath manager O’Rourke admitted his side had got out of jail.

“I think so,” said the Meath legend.

“There was probably a stage in the middle of the second half (when we were behind) and then Down had a lot of wides – one after the other. They could have put us away at that stage but we hung in. I thought there was a bit of traditional Meath grit from the past came into play in the last 10 minutes which was wonderful to see. I think it’ll do a lot for this team.”

Meath S Brennan; A O’Neill, R Ryan, H O’Higgins; D Keogan, P Harnan, S Coffey; R Jones, C Gray; C Caulfield, J McEntee (0-2), J O’Connor (0-1); J Morris (1-3, 1-0 pen), M Costello (0-1 mark), A Lynch

Subs J Flynn (0-1) for Caulfield (33), D Lenihan (0-1 free) for Jones (55), D McGowan (0-2, 0-1 free, 0-1 45) for Gray (56), C O’Sullivan for O’Connor (59)

Down: N Kane (0-1 45); A Doherty, P Laverty, P McCarthy; D Magill, D Guinness (0-1), C Doherty; P Branagan, O Murdock (1-0); S Johnston, D McAleenan, L Kerr (0-2, 0-1 free); C Francis, P Havern (0-5 frees), E Branagan

Subs: M Rooney for D Magill (46), R McEvoy for E Branagan (55), R Carr for Francis (59), S Annett for P Branagan (72), E Brown for McAleenan (77)

Blood sub: S Annett for S Johnston (60-71)

Yellow cards: S Johnston (15), P Branagan (39)

Referee: F Kelly (Longford)