By Paul Keane
Meath manager Andy McEntee let rip at referee Sean Hurson after another Division 1 game ended with a dispute over time-keeping.
The Royal County, favourites for relegation, slipped to their third consecutive defeat despite an impressive fightback that almost saw them rescue a result.
Trailing by six points at half time, and having only scored a point in the first 50 minutes, they struck goals from James McEntee and Ronan Jones to somehow lead with 68 minutes on the clock.
They couldn’t hold on for a landmark win though, and Mayo substitute Kevin McLoughlin, who hit 1-2 overall, curled home a 70th-minute goal that ultimately gave the league champions their first win of the campaign.
Rookie Meath defender Robin Clarke coughed up possession close to his own goal, allowing Ryan O’Donoghue to intervene and to play in McLoughlin, who finished superbly.
Bryan McMahon and Thomas O’Reilly responded with points for Meath, who pressed hard for an equaliser, only for Tyrone referee Hurson to blow up moments after the four minutes of stoppage time elapsed.
McEntee was furious that more time wasn’t added to account for incidents that occurred during stoppage time, citing how over nine minutes was played in the Dublin versus Monaghan game on Saturday evening when only six minutes was initially announced.
“I’d say everybody in the stand thought there was going to be another kick-out,” said McEntee. “And it goes two
seconds over and he blows the whistle. All I want — all every manager wants — is rules to be applied consistently, then you know where you stand. It’s one rule for the Dublins and the bigger names in this world, and it’s a different rule for everybody else.”
Asked about the impact of the new rules generally, including the advanced mark, McEntee revealed more frustration.
“Look, nobody knows the rules. Nobody knows the rules,” he said.
“We start a competition and the rules aren’t even set out a week before the competition is starting. We looked for clarification on certain fouls after the Tyrone game, and the
response I got back from the refereeing committee in Croke Park was pitiful.
“So please don’t talk to me, that’s all I want to say about rules. There’s enough rules out there if referees would
implement them on a consistent basis. And that’s all anybody wants. I could see James Horan getting frustrated. I’m massively frustrated. I can’t believe … the amount of breaks that were there in those four minutes of extra-time, and we play two seconds of extra-time? Dublin get two minutes (sic) last night to get an equalising score. There’s a level of inconsistency that’s all over the place. And they want referees to get respect. They’ve got to show a little bit too.”
Mayo manager Horan agreed that time-keeping is a problem.
“It’s hard to know for sure, because there’s usually so many subs in the second half and 30 seconds is added on for each sub, so it could be from two or three minutes to seven or eight minutes, and it’s very hard to know what is coming at you,” said Horan.
You’re standing there on the sideline and you hear someone call out a number. It is very hard to know what it is for or what it actually is. I don’t know what’s the solution, but it can be very frustrating, particularly for Andy today, and I have been in the same situation.
In a game dominated by a strong diagonal breeze that favoured Mayo initially, a surprising array of talking points would emerge.
It was poor fare for 50 minutes or so with Mayo capitalising on that wind advantage to lead by 0-7 to 0-1 at half time. A quarter of an hour later, the score hadn’t changed.
Then Meath, who hit 14 wides in total, finally got their act together and fashioned a well-worked goal through James McEntee, and four minutes later Ronan Jones kicked their second.
Suddenly, they led 2-2 to 0-7 and a first win of the campaign, and a first win over Division 1 opposition since 2014, was within their grasp.
A vocal home crowd roared their appreciation, and Cillian O’Sullivan put them ahead after converting a mark from 40 metres.
McLoughlin kicked the equaliser after being fed by O’Donoghue, however, and the same players combined again in the 70th minute for the goal that put Mayo three clear.
Horan’s relief was palpable afterwards, and the longest-serving Division 1 team are on the up again while Meath have four games to secure enough points to stay up. A tall order.
Scorers for Mayo: K McLoughlin (1-2, 1 free), F Boland and J Carr (1 free) (0-2 each); T Conroy, P Durcan, and R O’Donoghue (0-1 each).
Scorers for Meath: J McEntee and R Jones (1-0 each); B McMahon (0-2, 1 free); T O’Reilly (1 free), C O’Sullivan (1 mark) and B Menton (0-1 each).
MAYO: R Hennelly; B Harrison, J McCormack, L Keegan; E O’Donoghue, M Plunkett, P Durcan; S Coen, D O’Connor; F Boland, R O’Donoghue, J Durcan; T Conroy, J Carr, A O’Shea.
Subs: K McLoughlin for Carr and C Loftus for Conroy (h/t); E McLoughlin for McCormack (56); C Treacy for Durcan (61); B Walsh for Boland (68).
MEATH: M Brennan; R Clarke, C McGill, D Toner; B Conlon, R Ryan, D Keogan; B Menton, R Jones; J McEntee, B McMahon, C O’Sullivan; E Devine, T O’Reilly, S Walsh.
Subs: J Wallace for Walsh (47), E Wallace for Devine (53).
Referee: S Hurson (Tyrone).
IT MATTERED: A game that swung back and forth and hung on the elements was ultimately decided by Kevin McLoughlin’s 70th minute goal. To Meath’s frustration it was their own mistake that led to the crucial score, rookie corner-back Robin Clarke coughing up possession and Mayo taking advantage.
CAN’T IGNORE: The conditions were terrible but Meath’s lack of firepower is costing them. They’ve returned 1-9, 0-7 and 2-5 tallies so far in Division 1.
GOOD DAY: James Horan spoke of his satisfaction with being able to hand league debuts to eight players so far in their three games. Eoghan McLoughlin came on as a sub in Navan while rookies Bryan Walsh and Ryan O’Donoghue all played their part in a battling win.
BAD DAY: Horan revealed that veteran defender Colm Boyle suffered a serious knee injury against Dublin though stopped short of confirming a report that it’s a cruciate setback.
PHYSIO ROOM: Andy McEntee confirmed that Meath forward Ben Brennan ‘picked up a serious enough collision injury’ in training.
SIDELINE SMARTS: Meath only made two substitutions, bringing on speedy Ratoath duo Eamon and Joey Wallace. The team’s poor shooting in wretched conditions – they hit 14 wides in total – was ultimately out of his hands. Mayo weren’t at their best but battled gamely throughout.
BEST ON SHOW: On a day for hard grafters, Ryan O’Donoghue got through a tonne of good work for Mayo. A rookie who has now started all three of their games this term, the centre-forward scored a point and set up Kevin McLoughlin’s last two scores, which resulted in 1-1 that decided the game.
MAN IN THE MIDDLE: Sean Hurson dished out five yellow cards, three to Mayo, and left Meath manager Andy McEntee in an agitated state as a result of his minimal additional time at the end of stoppage time.
NEXT UP? Mayo will hit the road again on February 23 for a Round 4 tie against Monaghan. Meath badly need wins now but will be underdogs against hosts Kerry the same day.
Reporter Name: Paul Keane.
Donegal will still fancy their chances of remaining in Division 1 though their defeat to Galway, having been held to a draw by Mayo in Round 1, will leave them looking back with some anger. They will hope those dropped points aren’t costly and don’t drag them into a relegation struggle which typically awaits teams that come up from Division 2. Meath, the other team that earned promotion from Division 2 with Donegal in 2019, are in the thick of that relegation battle after three consecutive defeats. Worse still, Meath still have to play Kerry, Dublin and Monaghan away and have only one home game left, against Galway. Recent history suggests that if Meath and Donegal aren’t both relegated, at least one of them will be. Five of the eight teams that won promotion from Division 2 between 2015 and 2018 – Down, Cavan, Kildare, Roscommon and Cavan again – were all immediately relegated the following season. Cavan and Roscommon were both sent packing from Division 1 in 2019 having only gone up together in 2018. Meath manager Andy McEntee said: “It was always going to be a real challenge. But I said last year our season wouldn’t be defined by the Leinster final and it won’t be defined this year either by survival in Division 1 or not.”