Posted by Ewan MacKenna

Meath took an unconventional path to victory but were helped by Wicklow's management reluctance to make changes

Meath wicklow

Meath took an unconventional path to victory but were helped by Wicklow's management reluctance to make changes

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The method that is, because the result had an inevitability about it both in the build-up to and during this Leinster Championship first-round game.

Shocks and ambushes aren’t supposed to be advertised with neon lights but ever since Meath got relegated and Wicklow got promoted, too much had been made of the fact they’d be sharing a classroom next season. That may play a factor in 2013 but as for the present, there’s a massive difference between honing your skills against granite and trying to sharpen them against chalk.

Yet still the underdog supporters came across the hills in their droves with a steely confidence in their voice as they talked about the importance of being there on this day so they could tell future generations.

Granted, it was never going to easy for Meath, but all the evidence across recent seasons and this spring showed a very definite path to victory for them. Conventional wisdom suggested Wicklow had the far superior midfield in the absence of Mark Ward and Shane O’Rourke, given the size of James Stafford and the form of Rory Finn. To counteract that, it was expected Seamus McEnaney would tell his players to break ball all day long and let Seamus Kenny shovel it up. But that never happened as Kenny limped off injured before the game had reached 10 minutes.

There were plenty of other boxes Meath were supposed to tick on the way to victory too. The half-back line was supposed bunch around Leighton Glynn, and in doing so stop Wicklow’s primary route to scores and force them to head for Plan B which was the long-ball into Seánie Furlong.

That should only have been a back-up plan though because he was going toe-to-toe against one of the best big-man markers in the game in Kevin Reilly. Again little of that happened.

But as good as Meath were, especially considering the circumstances and their recent past, they were very much helped by their opponents naivety and slowness to change things when they weren’t working. Fair enough, the start Wicklow got was something special but in the second quarter it became evident Meath had them worked out yet still they persisted with the same old routine.

Harry Murphy has gotten huge praise for guiding the county to promotion - something Mick O’Dwyer never did or never cared about - but while credit was due then, criticism is due after this loss.

Consider the case of Brian Farrell. Between 17th and 30th minute he was on target three times and it was only after the last of those scores that Ciarán Hyland was told to go and pick him up. That was at least one score too many, possibly two, because Farrell had been finding space far too easy and was an open target for Joe Sheridan as Meath got back into the game before half-time.

Yet, while everyone in the ground saw what needed to be done, the Wicklow line were the last to. As if to emphasise further their blunder, Farrell only scored one point thereafter and it wasn’t because of his marker but rather a turnover.

There was another glaring error made by the Wicklow management. Murphy may have talked about the importance of size when quizzed afterwards and mentioned that his players simply couldn’t match up physically. But his tactics certainly didn’t help them in an uphill struggle.

Brian Meade is a decent footballer but he looked superb on the day. He was left to hover around the Wicklow half-back line where his height advantage and his physicality made him a key and easy target on his own kickouts and let him head for the area around James Stafford on opposition kickouts.Both minimised the impact of Stafford in a game where possession was particularly key given the troubles Wicklow had in taking on the Meath forwards.

But credit Banty for that too. In recent challenge games he has been trying out Graham Reilly in midfield and his contribution along with Wicklow’s inaction was the deciding factor in this game. Not only because he kicked five points from play in a five-point win, but because his natural running and long-range point-taking game was made all the more dangerous because he was coming from ever deeper.

When the Wicklow half-back line didn’t step up, he was allowed into his considerable shooting zone. When they did step up, there was space in front of their full-back line and while Farrell became less and less of a factor, Joe Sheridan became an increasingly important player as the game went on and he turned into the primary playmaker on the park.

That was surprising, not just because of his rustiness but because Leighton Glynn was supposed to take on that title. Micky Burke did well on Wicklow’s star player but again Wicklow's own tactics didn’t help their cause. Initially the long ball into Furlong worked, but once Kevin Reilly began to dominate their match-up, nothing changed.

Glynn was largely bypassed, particularly by Stafford as ball after ball went over his head and into the full-forward line. Of course his broken ankle hurt his side's chances, but it will be a bigger blow to his side in the qualifiers than it was here, given he was foolishly neglected.

Whatever about the result, the method wasn't supposed to be this way. And when you look at the way Wicklow went about matters, it shouldn’t have been this way either.