Lack of raw talent and key injuries not a happy mix for Royals
Published 14/06/2014 | 02:30
During the International Rules series in 2008, I got to work alongside Sean Boylan and saw at close quarters what he was all about.
I'd often wondered how such a gentleman had been so successful at turning out such ferocious war machines as the Meath football teams of the '80s and '90s. What I quickly learned was that Sean had the ability to empower individuals with the belief that they could achieve anything. His charisma meant players were willing to go through walls for him.
Of course, he had brilliant footballers and strong characters in those dressing rooms, but he managed to get them thinking big, that they were the best around and that they deserved to be dining at the top table.
All the great Meath teams had huge spirit, physicality and a pure desire to win. What they also did was play fast and direct into high-quality forwards who had the ability to win dirty ball and make the best use of it.
The current Royals boss, Mick O'Dowd, was part of Sean Boylan's panel for a number of years. The legendary figure of Trevor Giles, a current selector, will also know exactly what it took to reach the glorious highs of times past.
It's been said that comparisons with Boylan's teams have weighed heavily on Meath shoulders and young players coming through are suffering because of unrealistic expectations. But a county with such a rich recent history as Meath should be embracing that and trying to tap into what made them so special in the first place. The current generation should aspire to be like their heroes.
I've no doubt O'Dowd will be trying to invoke the values and traditions of football in the county. You could see what he was trying to do last year, placing two big men in midfield to win primary ball and feeding it into quick forwards.
It made a big impression on Dublin, giving them a serious rattle before running out of gas in the Leinster final. But unfortunately for the current Meath, I just don't see them having the raw talent required to be in the mix for silverware.
They fell short in their promotion push from Division 2 and conceded an average of 17 points per match. They played both Cork and Kerry in recent challenge matches and I'm told their focus was very much on getting the defence in order, but still conceded 3-18 against Kerry and got wiped by Cork.
Eamon Wallace and Conor Gillespie were integral to O'Dowd's plans and both are now gone with cruciate ligament injuries. There's doubts about Brian Menton's fitness after hand surgery, too, while Cillian O'Sullivan and Davy Dalton are also out.
They don't have the panel to deal with such absences. They will get over Carlow, I'm sure, but a young, hungry Kildare team lie in wait and that will be a big test of their credentials.
Should they make it to the Leinster final and get another crack at Dublin, confidence will be high and momentum will be with them. But I would be amazed if they can truly trouble the Dubs, even if O'Dowd has inherited some of Boylan's magic.
In Ulster, Tyrone and Monaghan is set to be a huge struggle. Monaghan have shown that they are no flash in the pan after winning the Ulster title last summer. In the Division 2 final, they were fully deserving winners over Donegal and, in fact, dominated Jim McGuinness' men over the crucial closing stages. But Sunday is a different kettle of fish.
Tyrone now have two highly competitive games under their belts. They got their scare the first day against Down and Mickey Harte will have had more time to perfect his game plan.
Monaghan won't lack for motivation. Dick Clerkin said that the squad has huge regrets about last year's quarter-final because they "didn't perform" and "failed to get over the line".
They possibly celebrated that provincial success a bit too much, which was understandable given it was a first in 26 years. But what struck me last year was that when that game was there to be won, they were reluctant to go for it.
Malachy O'Rourke will be reminding his players about that missed opportunity. But without Conor McManus, this is a big ask. Tyrone's new generation are desperate to get their hands on an Ulster medal. Ciaran McGinley and Darren McCurry really impressed me the last day and they still have the brilliance of Sean Cavanagh to call upon.
I expect them to maintain their hex on the Farney men.