Colm O'Rourke: 'If Meath do not take challenge seriously they could suffer a great shock'
First of all, it is hard to credit how or why Galway and Mayo would not toss for home venue last night. Surely Galway having won home and away in every recent clash were not on for moving to Limerick? And Mayo would have just as big a following if the game was in Pearse Stadium in Galway. It looks like the officials on both sides should have been locked in a dark room until they saw sense.
It was also a fairly pointed insult to Roscommon that Hyde Park is not deemed to be capable of holding a game like this. The story was that it could hold only 20,000. Surely it would have been better to have that crowd locally rather than traipsing down the road to Limerick with all the attendant traffic issues. Anyway, what this shows is that common sense is quite uncommon when it comes to the GAA.
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The big stuff is over from last night and the match between Meath and Clare is probably seen as the undercard in terms of the hurling in Mullingar and Portlaoise, and in the context of the other qualifier games as well. This is a massive game for Meath. Winning offers three big matches, finishing with a home tie against Kerry in Navan. It should inspire young men to do great deeds.
The only complication is that the exact same applies to Clare, who went to Mullingar last week and beat Westmeath. Now things did not fall Westmeath's way in that game with black cards for John Heslin and Ronan O'Toole and an injury to Ger Egan. The scourge of black cards again raised its head, some of them were minor and the anomalies still apply. A player can half kill someone and get a yellow and a fairly innocuous challenge gets a black. The Heslin one being a case in point. Go figure that.
Yet Clare did what they had to do and they are a team who are beginning to believe in themselves more and more. They won't give in either. Against Kerry in the Munster championship they got a lesson in the first half but knuckled down in the second half and had Kerry worried. Clare just keep on playing. They also have talented players. Their best is Gary Brennan and he has been one of the top midfielders in the country for a decade.
He would get on any other county team and has rarely been beaten by his marker in any match. He also has fair back up in Cathal O'Connor and both these men kicked two points each last week. Up front, Clare have a proven goal scorer in David Tubridy and, in viewing the Westmeath game, I was very impressed with the whole attitude of the Clare players who do not seem to be fazed by adversity or the need for hard work. They are a team of grafters.
The big question surrounding Meath is what effect that Dublin mauling has had on morale. These sort of beatings always leave a mark. If it was a week ago then it would have been very hard to turn it around, but with the extra week, the scars have had a chance to heal. The early days after the Dublin defeat were dominated by Andy McEntee's encounter with a journalist from the Meath Chronicle. This died a death pretty quickly, presumably because an apology was offered and accepted. There was no need for statements from anyone else. If a person is out of order - and there are few of us in management who haven't said something which caused offence - then the best thing is to apologise quickly and move on.
So preparation for the match has had no distractions. Meath players have a great chance to get a glimpse of the big time with a win today and the road to the Super 8 has been fairly smooth, a win over three Division 3 teams - Offaly, Carlow and Laois and today against a second division side. The only team with an easier passage is Cork. They beat Limerick, who were near the bottom of the fourth division, lost to Kerry but had only to beat one second division team to get to the last eight. Contrast that with Cavan or Mayo. Again it merely demonstrates that the whole system is unjust and unfair.
Meath's main problem from the Leinster final, and indeed for quite a while, is that most of their best players are in the backs. If you have a choice, you are always better off with good forwards and bad backs rather than the other way around. Against Dublin the Meath backs did reasonably well for about 50 minutes and then folded in the face of constant pressure.
They were not being given much help from midfield up. Yet some did well in their individual battles and I've mentioned Donal Keogan, James McEntee and Conor McGill as performing very well. Ronan Ryan and Seamus Lavin were not overrun and Meath have a specialist man marker in Shane Gallagher, not many teams have this type of corner back anymore. After that, the trouble starts and Meath need more from numbers eight to 15. Maybe that identification method is not strictly valid anymore, with all types of funny numbers cropping up in the first 15, but you know what I mean. Against Dublin, too many of the forwards neither attacked nor defended. There will be no hiding place today.
Meath have not been around this type of game for a long time, neither have Clare. I am only too aware of the value of a successful county side, it makes it much easier to get young lads to play football for clubs and schools and it inspires the youth to emulate heroes on the pitch. That has been missing for a long time and a cursory look at Meath underage successes in the past can be traced to the senior team winning Leinsters and All-Irelands. So Meath are playing for today and the Super 8, but also to inspire every young lad who could wear a county jersey in the future. That responsibility should yield a massive effort .
Of course the same applies to Clare. They have had to live in the shadow of hurling which is the exact opposite to Meath. In terms of winning, they have one Munster title in the recent past, it does not compare with Meath but the boat has gone out on the Royal county and very soon few will remember what it was like to actually win big games.
If Meath do not take this challenge seriously, they could suffer a great shock as Clare will never give in. Some Meath supporters have been talking about Donegal and Kerry, that is entirely premature. It is always best to take one fence at a time. Clare have survived very well in the second division for the last three years but Meath have beaten them on each occasion they have met and fairly easily in recent matches. That is the only line of form. Meath seem to have a better team but games are often won by a collective will among players who are willing to go to the limit of human endurance. That is the real test for Meath. If they do that they will win, anything less and Clare will sense weakness and punish it.
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