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Armagh blank helps to open the door for Meath success

Meath 1-10 Armagh 0-08

By Paul Keane

Technically, they're Gaelic football's form team right now so losing an opening round Allianz league tie to Meath, the O'Byrne Cup champions, isn't the end of the world for Armagh.

But it's unlikely to feel that way right now for Kieran McGeeney who watched his Armagh team slip to a five-point opening round defeat in Navan without scoring a single point in the entire second-half.

There were mitigating circumstances for that terrible return as high winds and driving rain only increased in strength as the game wore on and Armagh had played with the breeze in the first-half.

But they still should have made a better fist of it and will lament the fact that, when playing with that stiff wind, they only reached the interval with a one-point lead.

That was largely down to Mickey Newman's 10th minute goal which kept Meath in it when they were struggling and the full-forward finished with a handsome 1-4 tally.

The momentum of Meath's pre-season title win was clearly at play as they won at Pairc Tailteann for the second Sunday running. But Armagh did beat Cavan and Monaghan so arrived with some momentum too.

And it looked as if it may be a good afternoon for them as they raced three points clear with just five minutes on the clock. Gavin McParland, Colm Watters and Stefan Campbell were all on the mark.

But Newman's goal, when he dribbled through Armagh's last line of defence before poking a low shot beyond Matthew McNeice, was a game changer, even at that early stage.

From there on, the sides engaged in tit-for-tat scoring with Cillian O'Sullivan and Newman, excellent for Meath.

In orange, Armagh capitalised on the conditions with a couple of long range points including a beauty from Ethan Rafferty. They looked stronger in the tackle too and turned over Meath consistently, one of those leading to a Miceal McKenna point before the break.

But it still only left Armagh 0-8 to 1-4 up at half-time and, remarkably, they failed to score again despite over 40 minutes being played in the second-half.

McGeeney was unavailable to give an interview when requested afterwards. He explained that he'd already given one - while the majority of reporters talked to Meath manager Mick O'Dowd - and that Armagh PR protocols didn't permit him to give another.

O'Dowd himself said he was cognisant of the fact that Armagh weren't at full strength in the absence of key players for various reasons.

"I'd be conscious that Armagh were playing without a couple of big players, as well as the Crossmaglen lads," said O'Dowd. "It wasn't pretty but it was all about the two points and getting a win in the first round of the league."

MEATH: P O'Rourke; D Keogan (0-1), C McGill, M Burke; C Finn, P Harnan, B Power; A Tormey, H Rooney; D Smyth, C O'Sullivan (0-2), J McEntee; B McMahon, M Newman (1-4, 0-3f), D Lenihan. Subs: S Tobin (0-3, 3f) for Lenihan 41, C Downey for McMahon 52, R O Coileain for Smyth 66, A Douglas for Finn 73.

ARMAGH: M McNeice; S Heffron, C Vernon, R McCaughey; S Forker (0-1), A Forker, M Shields; B Donaghy, S Sheridan; S Campbell (0-1), M McKenna (0-2), C O'Hanlon; E Rafferty (0-1), C Watters (0-1), G McParland (0-2). Subs: A Findon for Sheridan h/t, E McVerry for McParland h/t, J McElroy for Shields 50, S Connell for Donaghy 52, N McConville for Watters 57, N Grimley for McKenna 73, black card.

Referee: A Nolan (Wicklow)

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