Dublin won 3-1 on penalties
Andy McEntee and Paul Clarke have both enjoyed relatively successful stints in charge of the Donaghmore-Ashbourne club in Meath in past lives.
Yet placed on opposite sides of the Dublin/Meath divide as opposing managers on Saturday evening, what was once a shared vision turned into outright hostility.
The pair bickered and complained to each other and at one point required the intervention of a Meath backroom team member to avoid a nose to nose confrontation.
Even on a windswept January evening, on a sticky pitch and in a pre-season competition enmity is typically the end game when Dublin and Meath meet.
Back in 2008, the sides faced off at the same venue in the National League and 16 players were hit with proposed suspensions after a mass brawl. Ciaran Whelan, sent off for punching Seamus Kenny, had a cup of tea thrown over him.
After the 2014 Leinster final between the teams, then Meath manager Mick O’Dowd, visibly enraged, raced into the press room and accused Dublin of being involved in a biting incident.
It’s a very old rivalry and it was no surprise that on Saturday, after a game that yielded three black cards – resulting in sin-binnings under the experimental rules — and seven bookings, they still couldn’t be separated in front of an unseasonably large crowd of around 6,000.
Unfortunately for Meath, for all their effort, it remains an entirely one-sided rivalry and their latest defeat to Dublin was decided on penalties.
Aaron Byrne, Oisin Lynch and Conor McHugh all scored from the spot for Dublin while Mickey Newman, Thomas O’Reilly and Barry Dardis failed to score theirs for Meath. Sean Tobin was the only Meath player to convert.
Meath have now lost six competitive games to their neighbours in a row; four in the Championship and two in the O’Byrne Cup.
What will sting most about this one is that Dublin won with their development squad, the 2018 Championship panel only just back from their holidays in the US.
Clarke, who managed the development group, only returned from the US himself on Friday morning.
Conor Mullally was the only player from Dublin’s starting lineup that featured in last summer’s Championship as they took the opportunity to hand game time to 21 different fringe players.
“Looking at our group, a lot of them have played minor or U21 for Dublin and have won medals, so they know what it takes and what’s required to be a Dublin footballer,” said Clarke.
It’s the third season that the pre-season duties have been handed to Clarke and his development squad.
They won the O’Byrne Cup in 2017 and from that group of players Niall Scully, McHugh and Brian Howard went on to play in that season’s Championship, Scully emerging as the breakthrough player.
In 2018, Howard, Colm Basquel, Paddy Small and McGowan all started the season in the O’Byrne Cup and were still there come summer to experience competitive game time, Howard this time standing out.
Ryan Basquel, brother of Dublin senior Colm, put his hand up as a potential bolter from the pack with four points and a classy forward display. Robbie McDaid, his Ballyboden colleague and a fellow All-Ireland club medallist in 2016, scored their solitary goal after a neat passing move.
“At full-time we were delighted with our performance,” said Clarke. “Of course, a Dublin-Meath game had to have a little twist at the end with the penalties, there’s nothing unusual about that, so it’s great that we got a victory out of it.”
It was only the second time penalties were used to settle a game following the previous weekend’s shoot-out between Mayo and Leitrim in Connacht.
“I wouldn’t like a Championship game to be decided like that,” said Meath manager McEntee. “I think both teams would have got value out of another 20 minutes. They would have had a chance to put on a few more players. But I’m not complaining, it is what it is, we knew that was coming.”
McEntee started eight players who played in last year’s Championship. They dominated initially, running up a 1-4 to 0-2 lead but were pegged back to level terms at 1-7 apiece at half-time.
They were tied five more times in the second-half before McHugh fisted Dublin ahead in the 74th minute with what looked like the winner. Meath refused to comply and Donal Keogan drew a foul from Mullally, who was black carded and sin-binned, allowing Newman to level the game from a free.
Meath had momentum then for the novel penalty contest but fluffed their lines badly, sending two kicks over while Thomas O’Reilly’s was saved.
Interestingly, Barry Dardis, one of the best forwards in Meath, lined out in goals again for the county. The Royals were also awarded a dubious point in the 28th minute when a Newman free appeared to have sailed wide.
Next up for them is a January 27 National League date with Tipperary in Navan.
“Our target is to try to get out of Division 2,” said McEntee. “Straightforward, simple as that.”
Scorers for Dublin: R. Basquel (0-4); R. McDaid (1-0); S. Smith (2 frees), O Lynch (0-2 each); S. McMahon, A. Byrne, S. Bugler, C. McHugh (0-1 each).
Scorers for Meath: G. Reilly (1-2); M. Newman (0-5, 4 frees, 1 Mark); D. Campion (0-3); B. Brennan, J. Conlon (0-1 each).
DUBLIN: A. Bunyan; N. Doran, S. McMahon, C. Smith; C. O’Connor, C. Mullally, R. McDaid; D. Gavin, C. Howley; R. Basquel, A. Byrne, S. Bugler; S. Smith, C. Pearson, O. Lynch.
Subs: C. McHugh for Smith and C. Reddin for Howley (47); S. Boland for Byrne and A. McGowan for Doran (55); G. Seaver for Basquel (64); J. Hazley for Bugler (72).
MEATH: B. Dardis; R. Ryan, C. McGill, S. Lavin; J. McEntee, D. Keogan, N. Kane; B. Menton, A. Flanagan; N. Hickey, B. Brennan, D. Quinn; D. Campion, M. Newman, T. O’Reilly.
Subs: G. Reilly for Hickey, blood, (7-23); M. Brennan for Dardis, Reilly for Hickey and G. McCoy for Quinn (h/t); S. Tobin for Brennan (49); J. Conlon for Campion (64).
Referee: F. Kelly (Longford).