Kevin O’Brien reports from O’Moore Park
SUPPORTERS IN O’MOORE Park witnessed the new face of Gaelic football as the game’s experimental rule changes went off without a hitch in Meath’s facile O’Byrne Cup win over Laois tonight.
Not only that, but the much-maligned handpass rule – which limits fisted passes to three – prove a major success and both sides made far more use of the kick pass. It successfully cut out the sort of lateral play that has sucked the life out of the sport in recent years.
The match programme contained a full explainer of the experimental rules and both the players and officials handled the change well. Young Offaly referee Fintan Pierce blew for four handpasses three times in the opening half – all for Laois – while there were two for Meath in the second.
The vast majority of kick-outs – now from the 20m line – were contested in the middle and there were no advanced marks from either team, which was understandable given the difficult conditions.
The wet and windy weather made things tricky but Meath had the more impressive forwards on display and took full advantage on the scoreboard.
Experienced forward Mickey Newman has returned to the Royals panel after a year out and he finished with a five-point haul, while lively inside forward Thomas O’Reilly chipped in with 1-1.
There was also a playing return for Daniel O’Reilly off the Laois bench. The Graigecullen man was left with serious head injuries after he was attacked while on a night out back in April, but featured in the final quarter for his county tonight.
Wexford are the other side involved in this three-team group, with the top team advancing straight to the semi-finals. The Model County had a bye in this round and face Laois on 15 December with Meath visiting them on 5 January.
Both teams went with offensive line-ups. Laois boss John Sugrue started with a three-man full-forward line, while Andy McEntee was a little more reserved and left two inside.
In a slow opening quarter, where both sides were feeling each other and the new rules out, Meath surged clear before the break.
Newman posted four placed balls in the first-half as goals from Ronan Ryan and Daniel Quinn left them 2-8 to 0-3 ahead at the break. Both sides missed chances in a third quarter where there were just four scores, with centre-forward Darragh Campion slotting over the pick of the bunch.
Meath broke through for their third goal in the 54th minute. Substitute Graham Reilly played a great ball inside for O’Reilly to dispatch past Scott Osbourne into the bottom corner.
Scorers for Meath: Michael Newman 0-5 (0-4f, 0-1 45), Thomas O’Reilly and Daniel Quinn 1-1 each, Ronan Ryan 1-0, James Conlon 0-2 and Donal Keogan 0-1.
Scorers for Laois: Gary Walsh 0-2 (0-1f), Eoin Lowry, Brian Daly, Mark Timmons and David Conway 0-1 each.
1. Scott Osbourne (Portarlington)
2. Adam Campion (St Joseph’s)
3. Denis Booth (The Heath)
4. Damien O’Connor Timahoe)
5. Stephen Attride (Killeshin)
6. Mark Timmons (Graiguecullen)
7. Robbie Piggott (Portarlington)
8. John O’Loughlin (St Brigid’s)
9. Brian Daly (St Joseph’s)
10. Martin Scully (Ballyroan Abbey)
11. David Conway (Arles Kilcruise)
12. Sean Byrne (Portarlington)
13. Eoin Lowry (Killeshin)
14. Gary Walsh (Ballylinan)
15. Paul Kingston (Arles-Killeen)
23. Patrick O’Sullivan (Portarlington) for Piggott (44)
19. Michael Keogh (St Joseph’s) for Kingston (44)
26. Daniel O’Reilly (Graiguecullen) for Attride (44)
22. Shane Nerney (O’Dempsey’s) for Conway (51)
17. Brian Byrne (Graiguecullen) for Campion (62)
20. Richie Hitchcock (Park Ratheniska) for Scully (62)
1. Andrew Colgan (Donaghmore Ashbourne)
2. Seamus Lavin (Dunboyne)
3. Bryan Menton (Donaghmore Ashbourne)
4. Ronan Ryan (Summerhill)
5. James McEntee (Currach Atha)
6. Donal Keogan (Rath Coinnig)
7. Gavin McCoy (Dunboyne)
8. Sean Tobin (Gaeil Baile Shiomoin)
9. Adam Flanagan (Cluain Ioraird)
10. Daniel Quinn (Baile na Breacaighe)
11. Darragh Campion (Scrin)
12. Bryan McMahon (Rath To)
13. James Conlon (Naomh Colmcille)
14. Michael Newman (Cill Maighneann)
15. Thomas O’Reilly (Bhulf Ton)
23. Niall Hickey (Baile Sencaill) for Conlon (28m, inj)
21. Graham Reilly (St Colmcilles) for McMahon (47)
26. Conor McGill for Tobin (54)
19. Niall Kane (Gaeil Baile Shiomoin) for McCoy (56)
18. Thomas McGovern (Domhnach Mor Cil Dheaglain) for Ryan (56)
25. Roberty Garry for Quinn (58)
Referee: Fintan Pierce (Offaly)