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Royals not the same prospect without their never-say-die spirit

ELSEWHERE on these pages you may read an end-of-league reflection on the current standing of Dublin and some potential problems facing the All-Ireland champions ahead of their title defence.

The key message is that while Dublin have lost four times this spring and have some obvious issues to sort out, they are not in crisis. If only their Royal neighbours could say the same thing this evening.

Meath, most assuredly, are in crisis. A crisis of form has caused a results crisis and that, in turn, has left them with a crisis of confidence.

The anti-Banty bandwagon will go further and declare a managerial crisis, one that can only be solved by an immediate change in the hotseat and a rapid alteration of direction too.

We're not even sure that would work the oracle, however, because several of the problems besetting Meath football long predate the controversial arrival of their first 'outside' manager ... although it might steady the ship in the short term.

Last week, this reporter shared a revealing conversation with Anthony Moyles. The recently retired Royal spoke of a general "malaise" in Meath football going beyond the current senior set-up.

He had critical comments for the county board hierarchy, citing the fact that Sean Boylan felt compelled to quit his newly established role as director of football, and the county's disquieting underage record (most notably in the under-21 grade) was also discussed.

Still, Moyles wasn't giving up hope that his former colleagues - their backs to the wall - would come out fighting against Louth in their relegation showdown last Sunday.

"Louth will view Meath as being vulnerable, and quite often the worst time to play Meath is when the opposition think they are vulnerable," he pointed out.

This was certainly the case when Moyles was setting out as a Meath senior footballer; the previous season they had annexed their fourth All-Ireland under Boylan's watch (1999).

When they made it back to another September showdown in 2001, it was at least partly because Meath didn't know they were beaten even when they appeared to be so more than once that summer against Westmeath.

Fast forward 11 years. Now, it seems, the best time to play Meath is when you think they're vulnerable ... Louth underlined that on Sunday.

As for the never-say-die spirit that was once their trademark under Boylan? Nowadays, it seems, you are more likely to get a fadeout, even collapse - a trait that undermined the Royals even during relatively more prosperous times under Colm Coyle and Eamonn O'Brien.

The net result is that Meath are staring at the ignominy of Division Three league football next spring. Before that comes a championship that fans will approach with initial trepidation (against Wicklow) and a more general sense of disillusionment.