Meath project will take time - McEnteeBoss confident systems in place to close gap on Dubs
It's a project alright, bringing Meath football back to the big dance. And Andy McEntee knows that above all else, playing catch-up takes time.
But within the long-term goals, there are short-term aims. And one of them could come to pass this weekend if Meath find their way back to top-flight football for next year. If they beat Clare in Ennis on Sunday, and Kildare win in Galway, the Royals would return to Division 1.
It's been and up-and-down league campaign, but promotion would be the clearest indication that things are moving in the right direction. But whatever happens this weekend, the work will continue.
"I think everybody seems to be accepting that it's longer term, but our number one objective starting off was to try and get out of Division 2," said manager McEntee, at the announcement that Electric Ireland have launched an equivalent to the All-Stars for the minor grade.
"That looks like it mightn't happen. We have another game to win and you are depending on somebody else. If you are going to be realistic, we kind of felt that we needed to get a number of fellas capable of playing at that level.
"And physically there is still a lot of work to be done, trying to get guys up to that level to be able to compete with teams in Division 2 and hopefully in Division 1. That's the real aim."
The building blocks are being put in place. Meath's underage system has stuttered but McEntee believes the "structures are better now" with former All-Ireland winners Colm Coyle and Barry Callaghan in charge of the minor and U-21 teams respectively. Ex-county captain Seamus Kenny works full time with the Meath County Board.
A new sponsor has been drafted in. Last December, county convention was told that Devenish nutrition "would cover the costs of the Meath senior football team for the next three years". No figure was released but those close to the deal believe its one of the bigger sponsorships in the country.
McEntee believes significant financial backing is necessary for teams to compete.
"We're very fortunate, we have a new sponsor in Devenish, and (executive chairman) Owen Brennan is a very willing and generous sponsor; between the county board and our sponsor we're not lacking for anything.
"Everyone sees the figures that are involved in running county teams with the likes of Mayo last year where they had underage and senior. How could you do it unless you had the money? You just can't, you can't prepare in the same way and level of the Dublins of this world unless you have someone willing to back you financially."
While McEntee's appointment grabbed the headlines, Meath simultaneously made another significant acquisition. Noted athletics coach John Coghlan was employed on a full-time basis by the county board to look after the conditioning of the various squads in Meath, the first appointment of its kind in the county.
Coghlan worked with McEntee when he brought the county's minors to an All-Ireland final in 2012 and he was also by his side when he steered Ballyboden to an All-Ireland club title.
More recently he worked in China, where he coached the first Asian-born athlete to run a sub-10 second 100m.
"He is the equivalent of Bryan Cullen's role in Dublin," said McEntee. "It is a big appointment, it #goes back to the question about resources and the structures in Meath. They have looked at the structure and the resources we can put in from juvenile up, and John is very much involved in putting everything in place there.
"It is something I proposed doing as far back as 2008. It has eventually come to pass. You mightn't see the fruits of it straight away, but you will in time."
"It was part of the gig. I would be reluctant to do it without him, that is how much I regard him. He is that good.
"We are trying to surround ourselves with the best possible people that we can, the team around the team, and I am fortunate enough to have the people I have around at the time."
When the topic of Meath football is on the table, Dublin are never far away from the conversation.
McEntee's run with Ballyboden means he's well versed on just how deep the old rivals' talent pool is, saying: "I wouldn't mind having half a dozen of them (Ballyboden players) down with me at the moment; they'd certainly get a shot at it."
One of football's great rivalries has taken on a lopsided look of late. Meath would have to make a Leinster final to meet Dublin this summer. And McEntee knows the Dubs are the yardstick by which all Meath teams are measured.
"I think its unrealistic to be looking at Dublin because look at the two challenges that lie ahead of us before that," he said. "And that's not a political answer. We have to get over Louth or Wicklow and then Kildare or Laois so I think it is unrealistic for people to be looking at Dublin.
"But I get what you're saying, it's natural for people in Meath. The benchmark is and has always been Dublin, and they'd like to think that's who we'd be measuring ourselves against. We have quite a few hurdle to cross before we can even think about Dublin."
"I'd be lying if I said I'd (wouldn't) love to be playing in a Leinster final against Dublin. When I was growing up that was an All-Ireland for Meath, and that's our target, to try and go as far in Leinster first of all as we can and we'll see where it goes from there.
"The target is to be competitive first of all in Leinster."