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Meath must find scoring boots to avoid tense finale

CAN lightning strike twice?

Meath footballers are hoping that it will, as they head to Omagh tonight for the penultimate round of Division 2 in what is 'squeaky bum time' for the second year running.

The relegation breeze is blowing precariously close to their sails yet, ironically, they are still in with a shot of promotion, sitting in a four-way tie for fourth place behind Tyrone (10 points), Kildare (six) and Galway (five).

Yet there's a worrying feeling of deja vu about this one.

After a good start to the season, the Royals' gallop abruptly halted and last week's loss to Derry completed a worrying three-game slump.

Like Westmeath, Derry and Monaghan, they now find themselves just one point clear of table-proppers Louth, whom they face in the final round.

Meeting Tyrone, the unbeaten table-toppers who have already secured their final place, is probably a worst-case scenario yet could it actually bring out the best in Meath?

Like the sight of Kildare or Dublin approaching, the history between these two tends to make the Royals up their game.

When they hosted Tyrone in the final round last year they were coming off an even worse run, had also just lost to Derry and yet, somehow, survived the drop thanks to the most dramatic of circumstances.

Having their backs against the wall produced their best league performance of the year.

They shot 0-17, all but three from play, had 11 different scorers and the form of Nigel Crawford, Graham Reilly and ex-goalkeeper Paddy O'Rourke at full-forward proved vital.

A particularly judicious foul by Joe Sheridan in the final minute when Tyrone looked through for a goal yielded only an equalising point for Martin Penrose and that dramatic draw, and Kildare's injury-time winner against Sligo elsewhere, meant they survived relegation on the head-to-head rule.

It was a remarkable redemption and now Meath need to pull something equally big out of the fire again against one of the most in-form teams in the country.

One of their problems is that several of those pivotal figures have now gone.

Neither Paddy nor Shane O'Rourke are currently available. Crawford, like Anthony Moyles, has since retired and the latest blow is the loss of Joe Sheridan to emigration.

That's an awful lot of big fielders and target-men to lose in one season.

Scoring has also been a problem in their consecutive losses to Kildare, Galway and Derry.

They only scored 0-10 against Derry. Just four came from play and only two of those from starting forwards (Stephen Bray and Seamus Kenny). They had a similar problem against Galway when only Bray scored from play.

The decision to pick Graham Reilly at wing-back last week and Kenny, Donncha Tobin and Shane McAnarney in the forwards, even if they funnelled back, raised questions again about the changing nature of team selections and left them very short of scoring options.

The team they now face are currently one of the best in the country at counter-attacking. Like Kildare, when Tyrone run and off-load at speed, they can carve you open.

It's a tactic that Seamus McEnaney has clearly tried to instil in Meath but if you don't move the ball quickly or accurately enough it can break down and their shooting options are not consistent, with 15 wides last week.

Meath's defence obviously faces a huge test too against a side that has scored 9-64 to date. They have done well so far, conceding only 2-57 (second best defensively in their division) but there's a feeling that team selections are robbing Peter up front to pay Paul at the back.

Meath urgently need to re-find their scoring boots but the problem is that Tyrone (conceded just 0-55) are the only side with a better defensive record than them and, barring a huge shock, it looks like, for the second year in a row, Royal bottoms will be tightly clenched for that final round.

Irish Independent

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