It’s probably fair to say that, during Sean Boylan’s tenure, Meath got so used to success that we, as supporters at least, began to expect it. Of course, there are no such entitlements in sport. Whatever you get, you earn it. There were barren spells during those years too, naturally, and a few stints in Div. 2 of the NFL. Now read on…
Not that much would’ve been thought of it at the time though. Simply because confidence in the county was high and the players of the day generally backed it up. Dropping into the third tier, however, was unknown and unwanted territory. Trying to apportion blame as to why that happened was pointless. No management team goes out to fail. Nor do good players become bad overnight.
The appointment of Mick O’Dowd as manager for 2013 may have surprised many – including this hack. What was important was that he and his management team were given a fair chance and that the county got behind them. For too long, changing the manager has been seen as the solution to all problems.
It could be said that – in some ways at least – the problems within Meath football were a tad exaggerated. Remember, Meath were Leinster Champions only three years ago. Were it not for five crazy minutes before half time against Dublin, they may well have been last year as well.
My own view would be that – strange as it may seem – there was a crisis of confidence at play. Possibly among the players, but most certainly to some degree at least, among people in general. Disappointing outings against Monaghan and Cavan will have done nothing to aid that situation.
Yet, as was opined here some months ago, despite those setbacks, there was much positivity in Meath early season form. Most notably, players like Ciaran Lenehan and Davy Dalton flourishing when becoming more established, the return of Kevin Reilly and, in particular, the emergence of Michael Newman as a forward of immense talent and potential.
Eamonn Wallace falls into a similar category. He is a multitalented sportsman and the earnest hope would be that he will be able to feature on Meath teams for many years to come. For the Ratoath youngster has made an undoubted contribution to Meath’s resurgence and the thought of him unleashing his blistering pace and class in the wide open spaces of Croke Park is enough to set the heart aflutter.
For all the positivity however, this must be seen as very much a project in progress. Find any sort of consistency or dominance around midfield has been a struggle. Also, the tendency to let opposing teams build up big leads continues to be a worry. Though the teams of old were renowned for retrieving such situations, you cannot depend on it always happening. Staving off such a situation occurring is key.
Indeed, were it not for an inspired display by Paddy O’Rourke between the posts – possibly the Skryne player’s best ever outing in a Meath jersey – the winner takes all clash with Fermanagh may well have gone the wrong way from the home perspective.
Thanks to the outstanding custodian, another imperious display from Newman in attack and a valuable contribution from Paddy Gilsenan off the bench – including the match securing ‘major’ – all went according the script however.
So, the first objective of the season – escaping from Div. 3 – has been achieved. Credit where it’s due to the players and management for that. Greater possibilities now await. While I would be inclined to disagree with Mick O’Dowd’s view that defeating Fermanagh – thus securing promotion – was the ‘real’ Final, there’s no doubt we’ve serious ground to make up on Monaghan following the Clones disaster.
That said, every day is different. Meath are in a very different place now to that of the first weekend in February. You’d also hope that – as has often been the case over the years – Croke Park might bring out the best in this Meath team. From another perspective, regardless of the result, the occasion will provide some invaluable experience in Croker for the Meath players, some of whom have never played in there before.
Let’s be optimistic here though. Momentum is often the most invaluable ingredient in sport. Meath now have that with them having won four games in a row. Their opponents have been going well too, but, gut feeling says combined factors may well tip the balance in Meath’s favour and see another bit of silverware come home.
Sure with the club championships also about to take off, it’s the time of year to be getting optimistic about things!