By Brendan Boylan,
I have no problem admitting that tears hovered closely in the immediate aftermath of Meath’s recent Leinster SFC Final defeat to Dublin. It was the third such reversal for green and gold against sky blue in the space of a week – the Minor lads and Senior Ladies having suffered similar fates. Such things are devastating and heartbreaking to take, but, as the moments passed and raw emotions cooled, a look taken from a different angle showed a different picture.
An altered appraisal left a scene that smacks of a quiet revolution that’s giving plenty of reason for hope. And no little pride. Not only in terms of the number of Dunboyne players currently on Meath teams at various levels, but also in terms of where things are at with Meath GAA on a broader scale.
Think about this – on the occasions Meath were resoundingly beaten by both Louth and Tyrone in the National League, did we honestly think we’d be in a Leinster Final? No, yet, in recent weeks, four Meath teams have contested provincial deciders. The Senior men have been in two of the last three, the Ladies have contested consecutive Leinster Finals too and the Minor lads have been in four of the last six. Not forgetting the considerable progress being made by John Davis’ Camogie team and the considerable – if often sadly unheralded – strides being made at underage Hurling.
Obviously, losing finals is never comfortable, or nice. Rather than be too downbeat though, now is a time to survey the new horizons now in view and tackle the challenges they present. At the time of typing three Meath teams are still in Championship action. That has to be positive and encouraging. Things are looking good and promising for Meath GAA on many fronts. Much good work is being done by many people.
The key now, however, is to build thereon. Which takes this corner back to two long held chestnuts, structure and continuity thereof. No matter what anyone thinks, when it’s considered what a disaster the league was for Seamus McEnaney’s team, a degree of progress must have been made when one considers the performances against Kildare and Dublin.
There’s obviously a decent level of talent coming through in the county, across the codes. In hurling, while it’s not known whether Cillian Farrell is to continue with the county seniors, hope would be that he will. Things are going the right way. They again made the final of their NHL division and are capable of gaining promotion very soon.
Paula Cunningham’s ladies team, though having lost two Leinster finals in a row, are, it seems, getting closer to a big breakthrough. They’ve already proven they can beat Dublin, and held their own on their return to the top flight of the league. With experienced performers like Mary Sheridan, Fiona Mahon, Katie O’Brien and Jenny Rispin still in their ranks and younger players making an impact too, silverware might not be far away for them.
And it might not be long in arriving again for the county’s top Camogie team either. They have progressed through the Junior ranks in the league – and claimed the scalps of Cork and Kilkenny along the way. Surely it cannot be too long until they are at least competing in the O’Duffy Cup, the most sought after prize in the sport.
Plenty of positivity and continuity at many levels, then. What’s crucial, though, is that similar traits are allowed manifest themselves in terms of our footballing men. In short, what I’m saying is that the current senior management setup must be given another term. The view was expressed at the time of the attempt to remove McEnaney that it would not improve anything.
In one way, would I have liked to see Sean Boylan return? Yes, of course I would, on a personal level and for other reasons too. Nobody could deny however that progress has been made since the dark Easter Sunday when Louth condemned Meath to next spring in Div. 3. The addition of John Evans to the setup – presumably ‘Banty’s’ brainchild – has rightly been credited with having played a major role in the transformation. There’s a view – held by many – that the Kerryman should be the one in charge in 2013.
Following what must be categorised as a very disappointing defeat against Laois, sadly, it would appear we are back to square one. Talk of the Kildare game being a flash in the pan will grow. So too will the clamour for change and this time it may be unstoppable. ‘Banty’ may well decide to go himself anyway. If he does, his replacement must be installed quickly. My preference would be to see Sean return or, failing that, John Evans, with Graham Geraghty and Trevor Giles.
Whoever takes it will have plenty to work with. Meath were within one score of beating the best team in the country, having been ten down with a quarter of the game left. Were it not for a combination of inexperience, naivety and bad luck, they might have. Remember, too, that along with the further development of some younger players, some more senior ones should only be reaching their peak.
What could be even more important is who is appointed Meath U-21 football manager for 2013 (if that has not become known by the time you are reading this). The key points of this piece – continuity and structure – pertain again. One would think that either Graham Geraghty or Andy McEntee – should he want to step up from the Minors – would be the obvious candidates. That would represent continuity and that’s what’s needed.