It was the good day for the O Donnachadha clan at Pairc Tailteann on Saturday. Before the game got underway Eamon O Donnchadha from Rath Chairn sang Amhran na bhFiann, and did so with gusto, giving a fine, rousing version of the national anthem.
The song was sung with meaning and prompted one observer in the stand to describe it as “soul Rath Chairn style.” It was a good description. Accurate. It was just a pity there were so few there on Saturday to hear it.
When the action got underway it was the turn of Eamon Og O Donnchadha to do his stuff on the main stage. The Clann na nGael player was Meath’s target man and he did an outstanding job too in that role putting together a fine body of work over the 70 minutes. He sent over three points and was also involved in some of his team’s most enterprising moves of the afternoon.
Meath looked good in this contest. Alert, smart, focused, enterprising and confident in what they were doing. They looked a well drilled outfit – and any day you win by 10 points despite having played the majority of the game a man down (after Damien Healy was harshly sent off) would indicate it was was indeed a good day at the office. Productive. Again it was a pity there were so few there to see the win.
The dismissal of Healy on the half-hour mark was a bit of a puzzle no doubt. He banged into an opponent sending him to the ground but it wasn’t dirty, over-the-top, malicious. Those who know the Longwood man, or follow Meath hurling, know he is by no stretch of the imagination a player who will deliberately try to take out an opponent. Referee Conor Doyle didn’t have the advantage of that knowledge so there is some mitigating factors for his decision, but even a yellow card would have been deemed a little heavy. Red. Never.
Meath manager Seoirse Bulfin was certainly a little bemused by the dismissal afterwards referencing a soccer manager who never seemed to accept his team did anything wrong.
“I’m not doing an Arsene Wenger on it here but I thought from where I was looking at it it was a little bit harsh. It think the tackle was mistimed, the fact that Damo is that little bit taller than the man he tackled probably made it look worse. Within two seconds of getting up the Wicklow player was on the attack so he wasn’t exactly injured,” said Bulfin.
“Look you just have to deal with something like that, get on with it because the referee is not going to change it, is he? If we got too carried away with it the lads might have lost their focus. Regroup and go again.”
It could be the mantra for any team.
On the issue of Meath hurling supporters the question has to be: where are they? They was about 100 people in attendance on Saturday and a sizeable chunk of those made the trip up from Wicklow. NHL games at his level aren’t big attractions at the best of times but the ‘crowd’ that showed up was paltry indeed. Maybe it had something go do with the fact that the GAA fixed games like this at the same time Ireland were playing in the Six Nations but the governing body doesn’t seemed to bothered. They are not for turning.
At times Meath played some sparkling hurling and the performance of newcomers to his level of hurling such as Kyle Donnelly (who scored a beauty of a point), Niall McLarnon and Pa Ryan was one of the encouraging aspects of the display. Patrick Barnwell was another who came on and displayed a relish for the cut and thrust of the game and he is fast building a reputation at this level, as is another newcomer Simon Ennis.
The fact that goalkeeper Charlie Ennis had hardly a save to make was an indication of how well the Meath defence, marshalled once again by the imperious James Toher, blunted Wicklow’s attacking threat which wasn’t inconsiderable.
Bulfin had also reason to be pleased with the invention and drive of the attack. “Eamon (O Donnchadha) was exceptionally good as was Sean Quigley and these guys, there are a lot of good hurlers in Meath to be fair. Today we got the rub of the green with some nice hops, but our lads up front worked awful hard.”
The manager spoke too of how the team showed up better than the previous week when they lost to Kildare in the Kehoe Cup. There was something else on display on Saturday he hinted at that is important for any team at any level – strength in depth.
“The workrate and the energy that was maybe lacking last week against Kildare, that was there today. That was the big thing for me, there was huge energy all over the field. Also the lads who came on never everyone of them scored – Jacksie (Regan), Mikey (Cole), Paddy (Barnwell) they all scored which is huge, to have players you can call on like that is huge.”
Now it’s onto Sligo next Sunday. Bulfin talked about how his team can’t afford to be even “a little bit off” no matter who the opposition are. Of course he would say that yet it’s inconceivable that Meath should lose to the Connacht side especially if they show the kind of attacking threat, combined with the defensive fortitude, they displayed on Saturday against the Garden County side who never looked like they could snaffle a victory.
The manager spoke about how his defence struggled at times to deal with the high ball played in. Overall though, he and his players had reason to be cheerful with their start to their league campaign. Onwards they go.