The Easter weekend proved to be a fruitful weekend full of chocolate and big scores across the Meath Club Championship. The fine weather really does bring the best out of everyone with the temptation of sitting in a beer garden with two points in the bag on a Bank Holiday weekend a significant carrot for most teams and players alike.
Sure, there were poor games but more often than not there was entertaining football played in front of big crowds wearing shorts and shades with a 99 van none too far away. It was also a crucial weekend for those trying to right the wrongs of Round 1 and get their year up and running. Have a look over some of the action in last weekend’s Senior, Intermediate and Junior A Championship below.
Ballinlough v Oldcastle (Intermediate Championship)
Oldcastle bounced back from a disappointing first round stalemate against Nobber with a thumping win over neighbours Ballinlough, lifting the curse in the process. This game was over after the first quarter with the Championship favourites dominating all over the pitch particularly in the forward line with a pumped up Robbie Farrelly netting early on.
Ballinlough were woeful in that period, playing as poorly as they did for 40 minutes against Drumbaragh in Round 1. That would have been the only crumb of comfort for the Lough faithful knowing they do have that burst or power play in their armour. However, this never materialised and Farrelly, veteran Paddy Gilsenan and the impressive youngster Colin Hawdon dominating for the boys in blue.
Whilst they were rarely troubled in a defensive sense, Cian McPartland was a rock at centre back winning a mountain of ball. He has the look of a modern day full back with the gear, fade and social media presence paired with a vintage style of play. Imagine mixing Mick Lyons and Cian O’Sullivan…that’s what you get with McPartland.
The gulf in class in terms of personnel was evident too when you looked at the respective teams and squads on show. Ballinlough although they welcomed back Seanie Geraghty for his first competitive start of the year were missing inspirational captain Johnnie Reilly, Ron McGuinness and the Big Show Simon Deevey from the first day out. It was so bad that Fred the Red might have got a run out!
Oldcastle certainly have the credentials to make a tilt at the Mattie McDonnell Cup with their strength in depth and their effective running game. However, they will need to improve as the summer wears on which I’m sure they will acknowledge. With the luxury of bringing players like CJ Healy off the bench even if it is only for a minute or two, this underlines Oldcastle’s depth.
Ballinlough on the other hand, don’t have this depth to their squad and although they were missing 3 key men, it would still have been hard to envisage them making a game of this had they had their full compliment. The worry from a Ballinlough perspective will be that despite their extraordinary win over Drumbaragh, ¾ of their overall performance in the couple of games have been well below par. Can they somehow manage to turn things around during the summer break and be ready for the resumption of the Championship? That’s the conundrum that faces last year’s Intermediate finalists.
Simonstown v St Colmcilles (Senior Championship)
Simonstown made it two wins in 6 with a narrow victory against a plucky St Colmcille’s side on Thursday night in Ashbourne. Although the sides had contrasting fortunes in their opening games, I always felt this one had the potential to be close and so it turned out.
The teams went blow for blow in an entertaining opening period with the Cilles working extremely hard across the field. They were spearheaded from talismanic figures in the form of Ben Brennan and Graham Reilly who struck several exhibition scores from ridiculous angles.
The Gaels in contrast were more ponderous in their approach with Sean Tobin leading the charge for the former Champions. The North Side Blue’s very own Paul Galvin, Nathan O’Brien was enjoying a good tussle with Adam Lynch and he curled over a beauty. Big David O’Byrne was causing problems up top for the sky blues too with the diminutive Stephen Moran doing his upmost to contain the full forward.
County duo James Conlon and Shane Gallagher were serving up a right royal battle too almost cancelling out each other’s influence. It was difficult to distinguish Shane Barry and referee Joey Curley with the glow reverberating from the pair. Whilst it is only April, both somehow maintain a flawless tan throughout the year. One would have to wonder do they share the same holiday destination or do they share the same product?!
Simonstown did find their groove as the game wore on with Podge McKeever coming into his own and picking off a number of excellent scores. You could tell the Cilles were tiring as a result of their exertions in that first half. Brían Conlon, Brian McGrath and Mark Gardiner with a pair of gorgeous, unmistakable white boots were beginning to raid forward and add to the sky blues troubles with second half substitute, Andy Kearney benefiting with his freshness and ability to find his range.
Credit to the Cilles, they never wilted and raiding full back Jeff Kavanagh who was outstanding on the night made several breakthroughs which yielded frees. However, the loss of Brennan to injury was ultimately a costly one with the game in the melting pot. Jack Reynolds was a torn or a pest all night for the Gaels, more like the midgets you’d have in the bog around 6 or 7 on a warm summer’s evening. He kept beavering away but in the end it was McKeever’s late free which sealed the deal with Des Lane’s current side holding out against his former side for a nail-biting win.
Longwood v Rathkenny (Senior Championship)
It may have only been April 20th but this game was already a must win for both of these sides if they had any hopes of avoiding the dreaded relegation play-offs. Both teams were coming off the back of heavy beatings last time out with Rathkenny going down to Moynalvey and Longwood to Ratoath on their long awaited return to Senior football.
In fairness to the Wood, they were never expected to trouble the likes of Ratoath but Rathkenny would have been fancied if not to beat Moynalvey but to at least run them close. Therefore, I would suggest the pressure was on the men in black and red with this almost a free hit for the village team.
The game lacked any real spark in the early stages with a distinct lack of quality and probably confidence within both ranks. Thomas Coloe was certainly the beneficiary of some woeful defending from Rathkenny with two of the easiest finishes he’ll ever have. To be fair to David Flynn’s men, they were wreaking havoc in the inside forward line when quick ball was delivered. Aaron Ennis and Sean Coloe with their electrifying pace and movement were causing all sorts of problems for the Raths and they deservedly led.
Rathkenny finally woke from their slumber with Jack Gore and Keith Curtis getting them up and running. Brian Meade was a colossus in midfield, dominating in the air with the likes of Stephen Crosbie and the excellent Donal Keoghan breaking the lines. Longwood still had chances to add to their tally and but for the butt of the post they would have had a third first half goal which one would think would be decisive.
Instead Rathkenny chipped away at the lead with the lively Keith Timmons helping to assist the superb Curtis who was kicking some fabulous scores from play and dead balls. James O’Hare dropped back to the full back line to finally put some shape to the madness going on back there. Big Anto Healy drove a textbook 45 from the deck to ensure Longwood were 3 up at the interval with the queue gathering outside the ice-cream machine as the sun thumped down on Trim.
You expected a Rathkenny backlash in the early stages of the second half, to be fair they couldn’t have been much worse. They did improve too with far more purpose to their play and a determination with the realisation of the situation they were in. Typically they turned to their favourite son Keoghan whose driving runs and tenacious tackling helped turn the tide in their favour.
Then with Gore and Curtis inspiring the Dermot McCarthy’s men in the forward line you always felt Longwood were in trouble. Indeed Gore’s stunning strike was a key moment at a crucial time in the contest as was Curtis’ accuracy throughout, left or right boot it didn’t matter for the hugely talented youngster.
Ennis, Healy and Moore – Longwood’s answer to Johnston, Mooney and O’Brien, kept the new boys in touch in what was turning into an intriguing contest. It might not have been great in terms of standard or whatever but it was a close game with plenty of entertainment for the growing crowd who were starting to arrive for the second part of the double header.
With the greater experience in their ranks and the introduction of the ageless Donal Curtis with time running out, it was Rathkenny who used all of this know-how to churn out the win helped in no small part to Gore and Curtis. It’s harsh on Longwood who put so much into this game and might have felt they ought to have seen it out however credit to Rathkenny who dug deep the muster a very significant win as they hit Navan for the long weekend, so did Longwood to be fair!
Moynalvey v Summerhill (Senior Championship)
Moynalvey and Summerhill went toe-to-toe in the Kiltale derby on Saturday evening in glorious sunshine in front of a big and expectant crowd in Trim. An unnamed individual referred to this game to me in the week as the “contenders versus the pretenders”…I’ll let you decide to yourself which is which!
This was a quality contest played with a certain edge to it with both teams fighting tooth and nail to get the bragging rights and more importantly a crucial two points. Referee David Gough must get credit for the way he officiated it, letting the game flow and not blowing for petty fouls. It added to the spectacle with the ball being kept in play for long stages at a time.
Moynalvey, coming off the back of an impressive win and Summerhill defeated first time out; therefore it was no surprise to see the men in maroon start brightly. Davy McLaughlin made a welcome return for after recovering from injury. It’s not clear what the problem is but it’s rumoured he pulled a muscle in his hand from overly celebrating scores with his trademark fist pump.
Sean Duggan was dropped to the bench presumably to arrange the night out after the game. Big Donal Smith, standing at 9’4 got the in-form side off to a flier with a rare left footed effort to the amazement of his teammates. This set the tone for the opening salvo with Meath teammates Cillian O’Sullivan and Ronan Ryan getting to know each other a bit better!
Barry Dardis despite having to exit the fray to injury some 20 minutes in produced a stunning power play early on contributing 3 points including a textbook 45 from the opposite side. It seemed to settle the Hill and although Dardis would depart, Kevin Ryan and Seanie Dalton with pace similar to the roadrunner from Looney Tunes would start to cause Moynalvey problems.
We soon seem the Davy McLaughlin fist pump and what a fist pump it was, 9.5 on the Davy scale when some brilliant work from O’Sullivan eventually reached McLaughlin who composed and lashed home from close range. The loss of Darren Brennan was key though and Dalton soon made hay with a quite stunning goal following an enterprising burst from the QS.
It was just the tonic for Declan McCabe’s men and indeed for that man Dalton who chipped over a brace of scores soon after demonstrating extraordinary pace, precision and acrobatics. Despite Moynalvey’s dominance midway through the first half, they fell apart towards the conclusion with the Hill 4 up at the interval.
David Larkin, Liam Shaw and Ryan would all add to the growing list of Hill scorers in the absence of talisman Dardis and Moynalvey would little in riposte. James Weldon made a huge impact when introduced but it was all too late at this stage, it was a case of after the Lord Mayor’s show because Summerhill were already thinking of what they would order in Shaw’s after the game. Even the introduction of the enigma Duggan couldn’t halt Summerhill with Conor Frayne continuing his comeback from horrific injury problems to add a score late on as the crowds streamed out of Trim.
Bective v Trim (Intermediate Championship)
Unquestionably the game of the weekend, hands down. This had everything-goals, drama, terrible defending, brilliant individual displays and even Amhran na bhfiann…you name it, it had it! These are two sides I like watching because they play the game how it should be played-open, free-flowing attacking football, it’s great to see.
Trim would open this game on fire, underlining their Championship credentials with some fantastic football being played. Insta-famous Aaron Lynch with an ever-growing number of followers started the ball rolling with a sumptuous 45. It would prove to be the start of a feast for Brendan Murphy’s men with Lynch netting a cracking goal with a cheeky celebration to the Bective bench; it’s hard not to like the kid unless of course you’re the team playing against him!
His mate on the other side, Beano Dowling would start to cause havoc too with Ciaran Breslin spilling a long delivery and the Beano mopping up as he so often does at closing time on a Saturday night in Lenihan’s to finish to the net. It really did look ominous for the Bective men Alan Douglas and Lynch adding to their woes. Their shooting was off too with the normally ever reliable Seanie Keating and Cathal McConnell snatching at shots and pulling wide.
Mark O’Brien did hand Hosie’s men a timely lifeline with a delicate finish following a powerful run from Marty Mulhall. The trusty left boot of Paul McCabe not McShane drew the men in green and white closer but had it not been for a terrific save from Breslin, Trim could and should have been out of sight. As it was the men in red led by 6 at the break which was a bit of a result for Bective in fairness.
Whatever it was or whatever it took, the second have seen a quite incredible swing in the pendulum as Bective rose from the dead on Easter Sunday of all days. It was almost as if they realised their Championship hopes and dreams were fading fast and this was their last 30 minutes to save their season and that they did.
A questionable penalty decision seemed to turn the tide and it was talisman Keating who smashed home from the spot and suddenly it was game on. This was just the carrot for the Navan side with the evergreen bearded chairman suddenly pacing the line with a purpose and a belief that they could pull off the impossible.
Ben Malone and DJ Mark Usher were magnificent in the full back line, a full back line under duress conceding 8 goals in just 2 games. Ciaran McConnell suddenly came alive in the midfield sector and started delivering quality ball which benefited his younger brother Cathal, Mulhall and Keating who all contributed in the scoring stakes.
It was the devastating McConnell and Keating combination once more with the latter lashing home again to narrow the gap to a solitary point. Trim were on the ropes, staggering like Rocky Balboa against Apollo Creed. They couldn’t win a thing all over the pitch and a long, speculative delivery received the deftest of flicks and pushes from the brilliant Keating into the path of Mulhall who brilliantly slotted home to send the hungover but vocal Bective faithful into raptures!
They never looked like relinquishing their lead either even though the superb Lynch fired over an unbelievable left footed effort. He was fighting a lone battle though with little or no help from his teammates when he needed it most. McConnell and Mulhall struck frees late on to seal the stunning comeback victory condemning Trim to defeat in the process kick-starting their Championship campaign albeit 2 weeks later than they would have liked.
Ballivor v Moylagh (Junior Championship)
Two sides with similar hopes and aspirations went head-to-head in Navan on a glorious Sunday afternoon in Pairc Tailteann surrounding by sun worshippers and 99 lovers alike. Thank God people had something to keep them entertained with for the first half because in truth it was rubbish with little or no flow to the play.
The lack of drama or any real excitement won’t have bothered Ted Dowd’s side in the slightest as they seemed to be coasting to comfortable win. Ballivor were clearly struggling to reach anywhere close to the heights they did against Carnaross a fortnight previous whilst the men in green were plodding along themselves offering marginally more in an attacking sense.
To be fair we did witness a couple of moments of magic from County man Sean Reilly and Meath Junior man Tommy O’Reilly. However the game changed in a matter of minutes with two key moments. The first involved the influential O’Reilly pulling up suddenly with a bad looking hamstring injury. The second involved an off-the-ball-incident which resulted in County Hurler Keith Keoghan receiving his marching orders. I have to admit it looked extremely harsh nearly as harsh as the reaction from a fired up Ballivor sideline and bench.
In a strange way it was just what the men in maroon needed. Their play lacked any real edge or intensity but suddenly there was a spice to their game and they were getting far more stuck in to their opponents who had it all too easy prior to the incident.
Nicky Potterton did his upmost to revive his side but he lacked support and help in the full forward line. Queue the arrival of Martin Healy and Adam Gannon from the bench but with 15 minutes left on the clock, a man light and 8 down in arrears, it looked a bridge too far for last year’ semi-finalists.
The introduction of the aforementioned duo seemed to inject life into the veteran Podger Geoghegan. Geoghegan is a classy operator with the ability to glide across the ground carrying the ball like a young Figo minus the hair of course. The baldy maestro linked up with Gannon to devastating effect and finished to the net. Once again it was the electrifying pace of Gannon down the end line and as he cut in from the hospital corner, he dished across to Potterton who could have ended up in the morgue let alone the hospital but the nippy corner forward showed tremendous bravery and courage to get on the end of the pass to palm home.
There was dust presumably from the bog in Ballivor rising from the stand as supporters dared to dream. Moylagh were falling apart in real disarray a hopeful punt forward was inexplicably allowed to bounce before substitute Healy applied the fisted finish over the onrushing Fanning. He was forced to depart following a collision with Fanning which I’d liken to running into the 109 Bus but he departed to a hero’s reception in the process.
As Moylagh piled on the pressure, Ballivor hit them on the break with Geoghegan compounding their misery following yet another blistering run from the lightning quick Gannon. Ballivor were soon to be celebrating a quite famous win as Moylagh disappeared disconsolate pondering just how they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory with their Championship hopes hanging by a snot!
Drumbaragh v Kilmainham (Intermediate Championship)
Drumbaragh and Kilmainham clashed in HQ on Saturday for the annual Kells Classico. Naturally, this was a big game for both teams after their first round reversals over Ballinlough and Meath Hill respectively. There was a distinct lack of atmosphere around the famous old stand possibly as a result of the partisan atmosphere which preceded this encounter.
In fairness I have already voiced my opinion on where this game should have been, Pairc Colmcille in Kells and not Pairc Tailteann Navan. The first half was a real dull, error stridden affair but Tommy Carry; a late addition to the starting 15 was the stand-out performer by far. Despite racing into an early lead, you sensed the Drums were nervous following the events of a fortnight previous in the same venue.
In a weird way, they were winning but not playing near as well as they did against Ballinlough but it was a different type of game. The Kilmainham men were scraping away with Seanie Mahon and Freddie Newman showing well and the assassin Mickey Newman nailing the frees. It was a real scrap all over with James Connolly putting in a typically tireless shift for his team. Willie Carry struck an inspirational score but the Kilmainham response was impressive with Mickey Newman converting a controversial penalty at the second time of asking.
The Drums eager to up the tempo got the dream start to the second half when darts superstar and Drumbaragh substitute Kyle Dardis found the net. They never looked back either with Carry’s Colm and Thomas adding to their tally. Kilmainham’s reliance on Newman was evident especially when he emerged with 1-7 from their total of 1-10. Dylan Morgan is a real prospect though and he did get on plenty of ball yielding a couple of frees. One of these frees was beautifully struck from Newman who from 60 yards (no exaggeration) pointed a wonder score to applause from both sets of supporters alike.
The losers did huff and puff late on there was no denying Conor Brennan’s this time round as they hung on for a valuable 2 points going into Bingo Loco in the Headfort later on that night.