Reality check for the Orchard
Meath 3-7 Armagh 1-6
If Armagh's recent scoring wizardry against Roscommon represented an illusion of grandeur, then this tawdry exercise against Meath at Navan proved the ultimate reality check.
No style, flamboyance or elegance here - rather, a fragmented, depressing effort that has created considerable unease for the immediate tasks against Dublin and Cork and, indeed, for the Championship campaign that lies on the horizon.
"It was totally lacklustre," admitted manager Peter McDonnell afterwards with a hint of understatement. "The game bypassed too many of our players"
From an Armagh perspective, it was a succinct, scathingly honest summary of the proceedings.
In a physical, yet hardly smoking contest, Meath's midfield authority and sharper appetite served them well, particularly in the second-half during which their confidence and poise palpably soared as the Orchard County eventually caved in.
In contrast, Meath, despite their own inadequacies, managed to look lively and inventive and in Joe Sheridan, Peadar Byrne and Cian Ward (until injured) they had quality forwards who harvested scores after the Crawford-Ward alliance had sown the midfield seeds.
Even the tonic of an eighth minute goal from an Aidan O'Rourke penalty failed to inspire Armagh.
Two minutes later, Meath were back on terms when Sheridan thundered a fine effort into the net and when Cian Ward saw his innocuous-looking free somehow squirm out of keeper Paul Hearty's grasp and over the line in the 15th minute, the home side were 2-1 to 1-1 ahead, their early nervousness having evaporated.
To their credit, Armagh, for whom Brendan Donaghy, Ciaran McKeever and Finian Moriarty toiled hard, were level by the 22nd minute after Tony Kernan, Martin O'Rourke and McDonnell bisected the posts only for Ward and Pat Byrne to send Meath in ahead by 2-3 to 1-4, by which time the dangerous Ward had been replaced by Graham Reilly.
Substitute Reilly, the imposing Sheridan and Byrne all posted points before Sheridan swept in a 63rd minute penalty.
MEATH: B Murphy; N McKeigue, D Fay, C McGill; S Kenny, E Harrington, C King; N Crawford, M Ward; P Byrne (0-2), G Geraghty, A Nestor; S Bray (0-1), J Sheridan (2-2, 1-0 pen, 0-2 frees), C Ward (1-0 free, 0-1 free). Substitutes: G Reilly for C Ward (32 mins), S McAnarney for McGill (half-time), S O'Rourke for Nestor (45), C O'Connor for Fay (65), B Meade for O'Rourke (71). Yellow cards: McKeigue (8 mins), Kenny (11), McGill (30), Geraghty (33), King (37), Crawford (39).
ARMAGH: P Hearty; B Shannon, B Donaghy, F Moriarty; A Kernan (0-1), A O'Rourke (1-0, pen), C McKeever; K Toner, G Swift; S Kernan, M O'Rourke (0-1), P McGrane; S McDonnell (0-2, 0-1 free), R Clarke, T Kernan (0-1). Substitutes: C Vernon for Swift (half-time), O McConville for T Kernan (43 mins), F Bellew for Shannon (52), G O'Neill for Clarke (65), B Mallon for M O'Rourke (67). Yellow cards: McGrane (46 mins), McConville (47), Toner (58), M O'Rourke (62), Donaghy (72).
Referee: M Duffy (Sligo).