A second half comeback saw Meath book their place in the All-Ireland Minor Football Final at the expense of Mayo but Emmet Ryan says both teams left a lot to be desired in terms of tactics and execution.
Meath fail to exploit Mayo’s soft centre
Defensively Mayo allowed Meath to charge up the gut at will in the opening 30 minutes. Fortunately for Mayo, Meath rarely lacked the desire to go straight at goal and when they did the Royals failed to make the chances count. Shane McEntee cut through the Mayo defence on 4 minutes to put Cillian O’Sullivan through on goal but his effort hit the cross bar. Stephen Coonan had an effort on goal five minutes later as Mayo’s backs were once again at sea but his shot was straight at goalkeeper Conor O’Malley. Meath would miss their first 6 chances of the half and didn’t register a score until 18 minutes into the game. Much of this came down to poor decision making on Meath’s part. The Royals seemed eager to work the flanks despite Mayo’s continued success and defending out wide.
When the Royals finally got in gear, they made the most of an efficient stretch towards the end of the half. Meath converted 6 of their final 7 chances in the half to cut Mayo’s cushion at the break down to 4 points.
Raw passing defines first half
Distribution throughout the game, on both sides, was just awful but the first half proved difficult for any neutral to watch. Aimless long balls were played repeatedly as defenders rushed to clear the lines rather than aim to build substantial attacks. For the Royals it hurt their already stuttering attack. Poor passing limited Mayo’s chance to make Meath pay for their errors.
True a goal came on 20 minutes as Diarmuid O’Connor finished off a three man move. When Meath were there to be pounced on however Mayo didn’t strike hard enough. An 8 of 12 return from the half, solid returns for the efforts taken, only tells part of the story. With Meath trailing by 7 points with 7 minutes remaining in the first half, their defence was in total disarray. Mayo however could only muster a single scoring chance, a 13m free converted by Adam Gallagher, through to half time and failed to exploit the Royals at their weakest.
Mayo’s attack falls apart
Despite a brief flurry at the start of the second half, Mayo’s attacking malaise was fully set in. In the first 23 minutes of the game Mayo created 11 scoring chances. In the final 37 plus stoppage time, they would only have 8 more. With 3 scores from as many chances in 6 minutes to start the second half, Mayo looked to have put the game beyond Meath. Their failure to find the posts again until injury time, when Stephen Coen almost certainly meant to go for goal, was the birth of their demise.
Meath didn’t improve dramatically in attack. Once again the Royals got off to a slow start, failing to find the uprights until 10 minutes into the half. Their accuracy was only slightly improved on the opening period, going 6 of 11 after the break. Crucially two of those scores would be goals. The second of which, Patrick Kennelly’s game-winner, came in ideal fashion to decide the game. A series of bobbles at the back by Mayo eventually saw the ball come to Kennelly and he wasted no timing striking for the net. Mayo had fair warning of Meath’s threat up the middle from the first half but their defence never looked capable of stopping repeated direct attacks on goal.
This was a truly disappointing game and neither side should come away pleased with their performances. Meath’s profligacy at the start of both halves was born from mistakes one wouldn’t expect from juvenile players. A Minor inter-county side of any level, never mind All-Ireland Finalists, could not expect to get away with such a display lightly. Mayo however proved wholly incapable of striking Meath when at their weakest and it was not for want of opportunity early. Mayo had Meath in trouble towards the break but lacked the creative nous to take advantage. After the break Mayo’s attacking fire died out quickly, with just 4 scoring chances in the final 24 minutes of play. The one area where the Royals owned a big advantage proved decisive as their greater haul of scoring chances carried them over the line. Making an All-Ireland Final of any level should be lauded but barring a similar display from Kerry and Dublin next Sunday, Meath will assuredly enter 23 September as underdogs.
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