Battling young Royals bag draw

Meath… 1-09

Tyrone… 0-12

In recent years, blessedly many hours have been put in behind this keyboard heralding significant underage successes for Meath football teams. Wins that were both desperately needed and a long time coming.

You can see the fruits of it coming through by degrees already. With the likes of Harry Hogan and Mat Costello having gradually established themselves within the senior setup. Harry’s brother Billy being the latest to graduate from those teams.

For those Minor successes to be seen in full fruition however, the elephant in the room has to be dealt with. That being the fact that Meath haven’t taken a provincial title at U-20/U-21 since David Gallagher captained the side which beat Dublin in 2001.

For a county with the tradition and expectations that Meath have, that’s simply not good enough. Not that shortcomings in the area were or are the fault of anybody who have been involved with any of the teams, on or off the field.

However, gut feeling is that the wait for a breakthrough at the final underage grade may be closer to being ended than it has been at any time in years. You might think that amounts to stating the obvious given the successes of the Minor teams in recent seasons, but it goes further than that.

Recently my own club held a presentation focusing on a Player Pathway – how to retain players from underage teams through to adult level. I actually missed the event, being laid up with a bout of Celulitus. However, one of the central tenets of the evening was the importance of continuity being infused into the management of teams.

To that end, Meath have got their act together in recent years, with John McCarthy and Cathal O’Bric now working along a line of continuity with both having been involved with successful Minor sides in recent years. All of which leads this writer to hope (and believe) the breakthrough at U-20 level may be closer now than it has been in years.

Meath U-20 Football Manager John McCarthy

The journey towards that end goal began on Saturday last with the commencement of the U-20 Football Development Leagues. They are equivalent to the Ulster Minor League which Meath partook in by invitation for many years. At U-20, the leagues are bigger and better than the original concept.

Meath compete in the Leo Murphy Cup division and last weekend they certainly drew the short straw in taking on defending All Ireland champions Tyrone in Ashbourne. The match was a repeat of the 2021 All Ireland MFC Final and was every bit as nip and tuck.

Not for the first time, Summerhill’s Eoghan Frayne was marksman in chief for the green and his blasted goal – after a Hughie Corcoran free had been initially punched clear by Tyrone custodian Oisin Miller – had them firing well early.

Indeed, the locals were unfortunate not to have two in the onion bag when Alan Bowden’s effort – awarded by the umpire in real time – was subsequently chalked off by Louth referee Dave Fedigan. Though a wonderful individual score from Frayne left the score 1-04 to 0-06 at half time.

Eoghan Frayne hit 1-5 for Meath

Two more points from the team captain further embellished that lead before the imperious Ruairi Canavan – who would finish the afternoon with 0-9 to his name – Sean O’Donnell and Lorcan McGarrity firstly got them back to parity and then into a two point lead.

History has shown, mind you, that one thing these young Meathmen do not lack is composure and sure enough, after an expertly judged Ruairi Kinsella free had cut the gap to the minimum, Duleek-Bellewstown’s Tom Bowden slotted over the equaliser with his first touch of the ball.

MEATH: B. Hogan; B. O’Halloran (0-1), L. Kelly, C. Ennis; S. Leonard, J. O’Regan, B. O’Reilly; J. Kinlough, C. Grey; L. Stafford (0-1), E. Frayne (1-5, 2F), C. Caulfield; H. Corcoran, A. Bowden, R. Kinsella (0-1,F).

SUBS: J. McDonagh for Corcoran, S. Emmaneul for Grey, J. Finnerty for Caulfield, L. O’Connor for Frayne, F. Blake for Kelly, B. Moran for O’Halloran, T. Bowden (0-1) for Stafford.

Referee: Dave Fedigan (Louth)

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