Friday 22 November 2019

Eugene McGee: Top flight won't suit Rossies or Royals

John O'Loughlin, Laois, in action against David Keenan, left, and David Murray, Roscommon (Piaras Ó Mídheach / SPORTSFILE)
John O'Loughlin, Laois, in action against David Keenan, left, and David Murray, Roscommon (Piaras Ó Mídheach / SPORTSFILE)

Eugene McGee

As the National Football League has proceeded I have been surprised at the number of people who mentioned to me that they would rather not see their county get promotion to Division 1.

It seems a strange attitude but then such is the strength of most Division 1 sides that some lesser counties in the second flight are not all that keen on going up only to be dispatched down again, as happened with Westmeath last year.

Meath is a county that I would never have expected to have that slightly defeatist attitude, or to be afraid of playing any other county. Yet looking at their team yesterday against Roscommon in Hyde Park, it was possible to believe that they too might actually be better off staying in the second division.

SLIPPED

Meath football has slipped a great deal in recent times and the road to the top, even in Leinster, is not getting any easier.

They lost again yesterday against a talented but fairly green Roscommon side and when we consider that their free-taker, Michael Newman, scored more than half their total of 14 points it is easy to see that the outstanding performers of old are few and far between in Meath.

The conditions in Hyde Park were very good apart from a contrary wind that you often get in that stadium. Both sides found it very difficult to cope with that contrariness in the first half which produced nothing of note except a surfeit of modern-day football - plenty of handpassing, including back-passes, loads of players in the backlines and hardly a goal chance to be seen so the 6-5 scoreline in Meath's favour at the break was not surprising

Things did get better in the second half when both teams acquired some sense of urgency and the large crowd eventually awoke from their slumbers.

Roscommon's Don- forward and David Keenan moved to centre-back and these two moves seemed to ignite many of their colleagues.

Roscommon scored 2-4 during a dominant spell and these goals really decided the result. Cathal Cregg, very ordinary in the first half, seemed to respond to Shine's arrival and was on the line to finish a stray ball to the net after ten minutes.

Meath were winning midfield at this stage but disaster struck 12 minutes from the end when Meath keeper Paddy O'Rourke attempted a short kickout only to land the ball into the hands of Senan Kilbride and the St Brigid's man calmly soled through to leave O'Rourke clutching at straws.

When will these goalkeepers get sense?

Meath did maintain their composure in a brave attempt to save the points and a couple of pointed frees made the final minutes interesting but after missing an easy free in the closing minutes, they had absolutely no excuses and died a tame death at the end.

For Roscommon this has been a very good league campaign but looking at their players yesterday it is easy to understand that getting to Division 1 - now a distinct possibility with games against struggling teams Galway and Westmeath to come - is something that could backfire.

They have many talented footballers no doubt, but many of them still lack sufficient cuteness and guile. They were lucky not to have been punished more ruthlessly yesterday and they still have a lot to learn before mixing it with the big boys.

But their county has been on a football high since John Evans took over the team and they also have an exciting U-21 team that are looking to go one better than last year when they reached the All-Ireland final, losing heavily to Dublin .

Meath lost one of their best defenders, Donnacha Tobin, to a black card early in the first half and that did not help their cause, but there seems to be many square pegs in round holes on this Meath team.

Of course the county is famous for coming from nowhere on many occasions in the past so no GAA person should take the current team for granted.

If they can develop a settled team they still look the best equipped in Leinster to challenge Dublin.

Evening games without pay - why not?

Two years ago, Croke Park chiefs experimented by staging a senior championship qualifier game between Laois and Carlow for a Friday night. Something similar had been done previously and was a great success crowd-wise. On this occasion, however, the GPA tried to call a halt to the experiment. They argued that players would have to miss work on the Friday and therefore they should be compensated for lost wages.

That immediately became like a red rag to a bull for the GAA at the highest levels as the Association has totally ruled out compensation for players in that situation.

And as the late Eamon Keane used to say: 'Things rested so".

But I have been observing over the last few seasons that hundreds of players have been playing evening games on weekdays in Leinster and Ulster via the O'Byrne Cup, McKenna Cup and the Under-21 championships under lights. Strangely, there hasn't been a whisper of protest from the GPA.

This seems odd and would indicate that it is only when big championship games with the top players are proposed that the GPA and others have any concerns about players having to take time off work to prepare and play for these night games.

Playing some midweek championship games in summer-time would greatly assist club programmes.

It is time to have another look at the proposals.

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