Donal Keogan is key man in Meath plans to cause Donegal surprise
Darkness surrounded Meath in the wake of their Leinster SFC final hammering to Dublin and it would have been easy to throw in the towel.
History suggested the beaten provincial finalists faced an uphill climb – it was 2009 since the last Leinster runners-up prevailed next time out – but Andy McEntee's men were intent on bucking that trend against Clare, and they succeeded.
It's not the route they had intended, but the destination is the same, with former Meath star Anthony Moyles deeming this season – which also saw promotion to Division 1 secured in the spring – as a “massive success” even before a ball is kicked in the Super 8s.
"The last couple of years they have nearly got there and people have questioned their ability to see out games and certain things, with regards to whether or not they are street smart enough," Moyles said.
"Donal Keogan's tackle at the very end of the Clare game alone, when he conceded a free when a certain goal was on, that's a bit of street smarts. When you want to go places and you want to win things, you have to make those types of crucial decisions.
"It's putting the game back in your own control, so it’s a success for the year absolutely. I don’t think Andy will be looking at it this way, but anything at all from these next three games will be a big bonus for them on top of what has already been a successful year."
Keogan has consistently proved to be the lightning rod during this campaign, but that's no surprise to anyone who has studied his Meath career closely and the Rathkenny defender is finally getting the chance to show the breadth of his talents on the biggest stages.
"Unfortunately, he was used as the main man since coming on the scene and he had to go in and mark Bernard Brogan when he was in his pomp, he'd go on Kevin McManamon then when he came on for Dublin and was in his pomp," Moyles said.
"Any single forward who was dangerous, Keogan ended up on him and it really restricted his game because he's so good at covering ground and when he goes into the opposition half, his head is always up.
"He's scanning for options and the one thing that stood out from the Clare game was their ability to knock the ball down to him from kick-outs and he just picked up the breaks and wreaked havoc. In three or four seconds he’s causing chaos at the other end."
Na Fianna youngster Shane Walsh – who recently completed his Leaving Cert – is another who excites Moyles as the Royals travel to Ballybofey today to face Ulster champions Donegal in their opening Super 8s tie.
Declan Bonner's men are familiar foes, having already met twice in this year’s league – including the Division 2 final which saw Donegal prevail – and the former midfielder admits it's "a daunting task" with Pádraic Harnan’s role key to any Meath hopes of an upset.
"His return is a massive plus for Meath. He did a really good job on Gary Brennan and his motivation and leadership for Clare was totally snuffed out. Harnan just stayed with him and was a constant menace."