GAA Football

Down struggles continue against Meath

Paddy Tally's Down team suffered a seven-point defeat to Meath
From Brendan Crossan at The Athletic Grounds

Allianz National Football League Division Two North: Down 0-14 Meath 2-15

DOWN’S performance yesterday was the kind that should worry a manager. A glance at the scoreboard might suggest Meath clinched their promotion semi-final berth fairly convincingly.

But unless you tuned into GAAGO, you probably wouldn’t know just how convincing this win was for Meath.

It was a painfully one-sided affair and there was more than a touch of flattery on the scoreboard at the end.

Last week, Mayo swatted away Down’s challenge with little or no fuss – and it was something similar in the damp and dank surroundings of The Athletic Grounds yesterday.

Given the rookie feel to parts of Paddy Tally’s team, the Mournemen had just felt the full force of two teams that shouldn’t be knocking around the lower division for long.

That said, you expected a little bit more from Down.

It was always going to be a tall order to take anything from Mayo and Meath, but there was no fire in the belly from the Ulstermen.

No dynamism. No clattering tackles into Meath men to earn their respect. Most of the heavy hits were dished out by Meath. Their forwards tracked back like insatiable hounds, always getting a hand in or winning precious turnovers, and from an early stage Jordan Morris looked in the mood to do some damage on the scoreboard for the Royals.

You could tell by just how comfortable an afternoon it turned out to be for the visitors from Andy McEntee’s easy-going demeanour in his post-match interviews at pitch-side.

Before a ball was punched or kicked in anger in the National League this season, the cards were always stacked against a team like Down.

Newly promoted teams, more than anybody, need a fully-fledged NFL programme to show what they have – not a desperately short round-robin format where Down have endured two crucifixions in eight days.

Giving away serious height and weight advantages, Down struggled with Meath’s physicality and power.

From the opening seconds, the gap between the two sides was apparent.

There was more purpose and more penetration from McEntee’s side – and yet for all of their early dominance they somehow only led 0-8 to 0-6 at the break.

In fact, had Cory Quinn – one of the few shafts of light in red and black – converted a goal chance he created for himself on 16 minutes, only to be denied by ‘keeper Andrew Colgan, it would have been harsh on Meath.

Even when the visitors incurred two first-half black cards, Down couldn't get in behind them.

Paul Devlin slipped over a couple of handy frees for Down before Marc Reid made a fantastic save on 33 minutes to deny Meath attacker Thomas O’Reilly after a slick move involving the impressive Donal Keogan and Cillian O’Sullivan.

But the visitors finally shut out the light on Down in a seven-minute spell in the second half, hitting 2-3 without reply between the 43rd and 50th minutes to lead 2-12 to 0-7.

The two goals were very avoidable, with Cillian O’Sullivan grabbing both.

The corner-forward got into the danger zone far too easily and even though he lost his balance his left-footed shot from close range found the bottom corner of Down’s net.

And he grabbed his second major of the day on 48 minutes when Caolan Mooney’s clumsy fist pass to Liam Kerr was fumbled and despite Peter Fegan’s best efforts, O’Sullivan broke clear and angled another one into Down’s net.

Played in lashing rain for long spells, Kilcoo midfielder Ryan McEvoy had good moments as did Devlin and Quinn, Darren O’Hagan tried to force the issue from his defensive position and Conor McCrickard showed in the closing stages that he knows where the posts are, but not enough Down players dug deep enough on the day.

Midfielder Johnny Flynn was black-carded in the 45th minute which didn’t help Down’s cause and Gerard McGovern was red-carded for an off-the-ball incident with two minutes of normal time remaining.

With Westmeath coming up next week, Down’s attention will already be on their relegation play-off match after that. It’s been a tough week for the Mournemen.

Now they have to dig a little deeper to earn the right to have a proper crack at Division Two football next season.

Down: M Reid; P Fegan, G McGovern, P Murdock; P Laverty, D O’Hagan, C Mooney; R McEvoy (0-2, 0-1 free), J Flynn; J Guinness, B O’Hagan (0-1 free), L Kerr; D Guinness, C Quinn (0-4, 0-1 free), P Devlin (0-5 frees)

Subs: C Doherty for J Guinness (42), P Branagan for Mooney (50), S McConville for Kerr (50), G Collins for D O’Hagan (53), C Gough for Flynn (55), C McCrickard (0-2, 0-1 mark) for B O’Hagan (55), D Savage for Quinn (63)

Black card: J Flynn (45-55)

Red Card: G McGovern (68)

Meath: A Colgan (0-1 ’45); S Lavin, C McGill, C Hickey (0-1); E Harkin, S McEntee, D Keogan; B Menton, P Harnan; E Devine (0-1 free), B McMahon (0-1 mark), M Costello (0-1); J Morris (0-7, 0-3 frees), T O’Reilly (0-1 free), C O’Sullivan (2-1)

Yellow cards: C O’Sullivan (31), T O’Reilly (37)

Black cards: E Harkin (1-11), S McEntee (24-34)

Subs: R Ryan for Harkin (24), J Wallace for O’Reilly (47), E Wallace (0-1) for Hickey (54), J Scully for McMahon (54), J Conlon for Morris (62), D Campion for O’Sullivan (62), G McCoy for McEntee (70)

Referee: Niall Cullen (Fermanagh)

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