Can all statistics teachers please look away now, because we’re about to attempt to draw meaningful conclusions from a sample size of one, and that’s not something you’re going to want to see? Thank you.
In the end, it was neither the game’s ruination, nor the game’s salvation. It was barely even a disruption.
On a miserable night in O’Moore Park, with driving rain and a biting cold wind into the bargain, the press box was a full house as the scribes and hacks came in their droves, hoping to see first-hand the dramatic changes that would be brought about by the new playing rules for Gaelic football.
Drawn up with a view to balancing the scale which has been heavily weighted in favour of possession football in recent years, whispers and mutterings from secret training sessions have swept the nation in recent weeks.
These murmurs told of teams completing three handpasses and then kicking backwards instantly, or even going to more extreme lengths, with headed passes and deliberate kicks to touch all supposedly featuring on the tactics boards of the various county teams.
That’s the thing with coaches and managers these days. If you wrote a rule forbidding armed robbery, some know-it-all would be sure to find a way to strap a weapon to the chest of a man with no arms and claim that he was still following the rule.
If John Sugrue or Andy McEntee had any such tricks up their sleeve, they didn’t reveal them last night.
In Sugrue’s case, one suspects that he has looked into the whites of the eyes of the Standing Committee on Playing Rules, and decided that they are bluffing.
The Kerry native spoke after a game that featured precisely zero offensive marks, no contentious sideline kicks, very few short kickouts and enough space to make a kicking game relatively easy to execute, and he conceded that the new rules made very little impact on the game.
"You’re looking at something that may not even necessarily be applicable by the end of January" he noted.
Suddenly, a flaw. A trial period only works if teams commit to the trial process, and Sugrue might not be the only manager who decides that he has more urgent priorities than trying to learn to work with new rules that may not even be in place for the start of the league.
Certainly the evidence on the field suggested that whatever work had been done by this Laois group, wasn’t with these experimental rules in mind.
Andy McEntee on the other hand, spoke of how his Meath panel had worked to prepare for the new environment.
"It doesn't matter whether you agree with them or not, you have to abide by them. We bring it into every training session" he said of the rule changes after his side’s win.
Aside from the fourteen-point gap on the scoreboard, that gap in preparation was evident in the first half. Three times Laois were penalised for a fourth consecutive handpass, while Meath rarely even put three together, and never four, for the full 35 minutes.
They used the foot pass well, but it was notable that they still did so with high-percentage kicks. They simply found more space, and kicked to free men – kicking into contests for possession close to goal was just as rare is it was in any intercounty football game played in 2018.
Moreover, the Royal County seemed to be conscious of this new paradigm on both sides of the ball, stepping off their men a fraction and offering up the short ball until the third handpass was played, and then attempting to pounce with sudden pressure to force an error - often with success.
Laois, in contrast, conceded space. Thus they conceded lateral kicks to the opposition and so rarely left Meath in a situation where boot-to-ball was the only option for the man in possession.
"Meath played with better structure, they had fellas in the right areas of the field at all times, they didn’t have the packs of fellas defending and then packs attacking too much" said Sugrue.
The irony of this is that while Laois fell into the trap that the rule designers might have hoped – they used up their handpasses and often kicked long due to the lack of an alternative - Meath always left themselves with options.
Consequently, they rarely kicked long balls into the full forward line, instead spreading the play across the width of the field.
0-2 of the final Laois tally of 0-6 came from long, direct ball into the full forward line. Meath too got just two points from the same tactic, until Thomas O’Reilly’s late goal when the result was already locked in, leaving them with a final yield of 1-2 from long kicking play out of their total of 3-11.
But because that option was on the table, Laois had to honour the threat, and so defenders like Ronan Ryan and Donal Keogan were able to get forward, attack holes in the defence, and deliver key scores in the first half.
Supporters expecting more 40 and 50 metre bombs into the goalmouth are likely to be disappointed, if this game is anything to go by.
Despite his side’s comfortable win and their demonstrable advantage in terms of handline the new rules, McEntee was still less than enthusiastic when discussing the adjustments after the game.
"I don't like the idea of the mark inside the 45" he said, even though no marks were successfully called on the night. In fact on the rare occasions that there were some clean catches by attacking players close to goal, those players either chose to play on, or else never realised in time that they had a choice.
"Now tonight it's a little bit different because of the conditions, but on a dry day it potentially becomes like a game of Aussie Rules" continued the Meath manager.
"The three hand-pass rule, you know, I could live with that. The area of the pitch where it's difficult is in close to goals where there's a crowded defence.
"How do you beat that only with quick hands, two or three little short hand-passes and all of a sudden (under new rules) you're in trouble because there's so many players back there. In a way it would almost encourage more defenders back there".
He also railed against the short window of time between the final decision on whether the trial would be extended beyond the preseason competitions and into the Allianz League.
"Seven days. I'm not too sure it's fair on players or on management. but the fact that it's not coming in for championship, it makes an experiment out of the league.
"And the league is too important to be an experiment. That's the bread and butter for the vast majority of county teams. They want to play in that competition, it's a great competition".
"Does that mean you cancel the results of the league? Do you just say, 'Okay we're having an experiment here. Everybody plays everybody and nobody changes at the end of it?’"
Like a lot of other questions that hung in the air in Portlaoise last night, McEntee’s inquiry went unanswered.
What was learned was that when two teams meet, the side that is better prepared has a huge advantage – and that while there will be more kicking, it may not be the sort that the Standing Committee might have hoped for.