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Redemption's at hand if Royals can move on

COLM COYLE says he'll be "shocked" if Meath win the All-Ireland. That hardly qualifies as the Third Secret of Fatima revealed, given he is talking about a team that has just endured a 16-point massacre courtesy of Dublin.

But Coyle is not overcome with pessimism either as he contemplates tomorrow's return to the Leinster final crime scene.

"When you have a performance like that, it's through the whole team - nearly every one of them had it. That's not their form; that's not the standard they're at," says the three-time All-Ireland winner.

"If I was a player, you'd say 'Right, this happened' and you file it away, learn from the thing. They're out of the Leinster championship but they've a great opportunity in the All-Ireland championship.

"They're playing Armagh now and, you know, I'm not saying that they'll win it but they've potential to win it. It's a 50-50 game, and with a chance of redemption two weeks later, not like the old days when you'd have to wait ten months to get back.

"They've taken a lot of criticism in Meath, from supporters and all that - unfairly, I think. They'll have the bit between the teeth now, so I'm expecting a good reaction."

Coyle isn't just some long-retired Royal with medals falling out of his back pocket but no experience of the modern game or the qualifier era. He managed Meath for two seasons.

In the first year - 2007 - his team recovered from an early Leinster exit following a 
quarter-final replay against Dublin to blaze a trail through the qualifiers. Then they toppled Tyrone at the last-eight stage, eventually succumbing to Cork in the All-Ireland semis.

Twelve months later, he encountered the flip side of the second-chance saloon. Meath had conspired to lose a 10-point lead to Wexford in Leinster ... looking back, Coyle realises that it "knocked the stuffing out of lads" who didn't have the stomach for the qualifiers. Cue humiliation on Shannonside, against a gung-ho Limerick who led by 20 points at one stage before settling for nine at the finish. The manager walked that same weekend.

Six years on, the circumstances facing Mick O'Dowd are similar in one respect, very different in another. Once more, Meath are seeking to bounce back from a provincial calamity - but because it happened in a Leinster final, they only need one redemptive performance to suddenly find themselves back in an All-Ireland quarter-final.


Armagh, though, have built up 'back door' momentum in recent weeks. Meath, you would suspect, are still hurting.

"Their confidence will be knocked," says Coyle. "You kind of question yourself - one minute you think you're close to it, and then you're miles away from the standard. But as I said, Armagh are beatable - Armagh are not going to win the All-Ireland either."

Coyle knows all about the ebb-and-flow of Leinster's biggest rivalry; what he sees at the minute is a Dublin team "setting the standard" against an evolving Meath. But despite recent traumatic events, he believes O'Dowd is going about Royal renewal "the right way".

"Dublin beat us by 10 points in '95, but we came back the next year and won the All-Ireland," he recounts. "You suffer these defeats and you file them away - the next game is another day.

"And I think it's important for this team to leave the championship on a high. If they beat Armagh and went on to lose to one of the 
top-four teams, giving a good performance ... it's part of the learning process."

It's critical that players embrace their second chance in a positive fashion. Harking back to '07, he recalls how they sought to banish the Meath mindset of previous years; an attitude that "if they lost in the Leinster championship, they kind of went out and drowned their sorrows or whatever - and didn't take the qualifiers seriously."

That year they faced an early banana skin against Down but came away from Newry with a five-point win. Then, after edging past Fermanagh, they overcame Galway by a goal in a rollicking contest, marked by the prodigal return of Graham Geraghty (pictured, far left) prodigal return as a second-half sub, having been dropped from the panel after a training ground bust-up weeks earlier.

Geraghty was mobbed by fans as he left 
the Portlaoise pitch, then scored 1-2 as a 
starter in the quarter-final ambush of Tyrone.

"I think lads got carried away with beating Tyrone who were one of the top teams," 
Coyle surmises. "There was a lot of talk of a Meath/Dublin All-Ireland final. So a lot of things - outside influences - can get into the head and on the day Cork hammered us."


He remains hopeful about the current generation. "It takes you two or three years before you grow into it and there's a lot of new lads in there," the former boss stresses.

"And the big difference between this team and, say, teams in the last seven or eight years is there's actually real leaders there. They mightn't have shown it the last day, but they lead by example ... we thought there were leaders but there weren't, you know what I mean, in recent years. Now I think there's a lot more of them, which is good. So I'd be positive about it."