| 15.9°C Dublin

Another right Royal mess

THIS evening is a pivotal night for Meath football. There have been many such nights over the last seven storm-battered years, usually played out in the meeting rooms of áras Tailteann - and not nearly enough pivotal afternoons, played out where it matters, Croke Park.

Tonight sees the Meath executive attempt to oust Seamus McEnaney as senior football manager, even though his term won't lapse until the end of the season, and replace him with a home-grown legend, Sean Boylan.

A case of Banty versus Boylan? In the literal sense, yes - and most outsiders would conclude there can only be one winner in such a contest.

But this is not, necessarily, so straight-forward. Others have dubbed it more a case of Banty v Barney - as in Allen, the veteran county board chairman who has led the campaign over the past week to surgically extricate McEnaney from the Royal hotseat.

Allen is renowned locally for his vote-hoovering abilities, so much so that one Meath insider remarked yesterday: "I wouldn't put a bad penny on your man losing a vote."

But tonight's vote is complicated by the fact that, under GAA rules, a two-thirds majority will be required to rescind the board's earlier decision of November 2010 to appoint McEnaney for a two-year term.

Sources close to McEnaney have confirmed that he will "stay in this until the very end", banishing the notion of an 11th-hour resignation.

Presumably he's sticking around in the belief that he has unfinished business; or else he's darned if he'll make life easy for officers who want to heap Meath's multiplicity of ills on his shoulders.


Also in McEnaney's favour is the reported support of his under-performing panel, although an anticipated statement from the players failed to materialise yesterday.

This could suggest less than unanimous support, that a minority fancy the famous alternative ... but in fairness the players were faced with the invidious scenario of publicly backing one manager only to find another in the dressing-room two days later.

McEnaney may have been encouraged by reports that some clubs that would normally 'back Barney' have mandated their delegates to vote otherwise.

With close to 60 clubs and 15 officers on the executive, a full turnout tonight would leave McEnaney requiring approximately 25 votes to edge above the magic 33.33pc threshold - that, of course, would leave Meath in the nightmare scenario of having a 'lame duck' manager backed by a minority to lead them into Leinster SFC battle against Wicklow on May 27.

Whatever the outcome, there is no doubting that Allen and his executive have been damaged by this, the latest self-inflicted managerial controversy in what used to be known as the post-Boylan era.

Time and again, Meath have washed their dirty linen in public - be it the incendiary Eamonn Barry saga, the non-appointment of Luke Dempsey, the delegate-backed shafting of Eamonn O'Brien or the divisive process that led to McEnaney's coronation as their first 'outside' manager.

Tonight will tell if the process to remove the Monaghan man proves equally divisive. When Banty was not for budging last Thursday, Allen played his trump card - Boylan.

On initial inspection, it looked an open-and-shut case: McEnaney had lost five games on the spin, each performance progressively worse, to ensure his adopted county would be wallowing in Allianz Football League Division Three next spring.

All this after a debut campaign that included a last-day escape from relegation, the selector schism over Graham Geraghty's shock recall and then an underwhelming championship that started and ended with defeat by Kildare.


Put that CV against Boylan's four senior All-Irelands coupled with his Messianic status in the county ... game, set and match.

However, there is a groundswell of opinion within Meath - how significant in voting bloc terms remains to be seen - that takes issue with the hierarchy's blame-deflecting search for a scapegoat.

For all his enduring popularity, Boylan's entry into the race before a vacancy officially existed has not been met with universal acclaim.

Others have noted that Meath's fall from All-Ireland grace long predated McEnaney's arrival ... the slippage was all-too-apparent in the latter years of Boylan's 23-year tenure and the notion that, seven years on, he can magically transform this squad in a matter of weeks stretches credulity.

You needn't look further than their dire U21 record over the past decade to appreciate that Meath football is mired in a rut.

Allen steps down as chairman under the five-year rule at the end of this year, his legacy tainted not just by these recurring managerial spats but by the county's creaking underage conveyor belt.

In a thought-provoking article last weekend, Trevor Giles stressed that Allen's successor is the most important appointment facing Meath this year, advocating Colm O'Rourke for the role.

Giles, who has served as a physio to McEnaney's Meath, concluded his article with a message for the grassroots: "If you feel your county board are fantastic and you and your club are doing a brilliant job producing players of inter-county standard with no weaknesses, then vote to change the manager.

"Otherwise leave him there, have a think about the next county board chairman and get down to your club and improve your coaching."