Tuesday 22 October 2019

Donnchadh Boyle: 'Royals on roll but the air is about to get much thinner'

Meath will be operating at a far higher altitude in Super 8s but they have scrapped for that right

Flying high: Mickey Newman scores Meath’s second goal against Clare. The Royals are set to face a stiffer test in the Super 8s. Photo: Sportsfile
Flying high: Mickey Newman scores Meath’s second goal against Clare. The Royals are set to face a stiffer test in the Super 8s. Photo: Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

In the early days of his reign as Meath manager, Andy McEntee pointed out that progress rarely follows a straight line - and it hasn't been straightforward since he took charge of Meath for the 2017 season.

There have been peaks and troughs; performances that have shown flickers of potential and others that have made for some soul-searching. The progress has been slow at times, but this year it has been undeniable.

Last Sunday in Portlaoise, Meath backed up the form they showed in the league. After claiming a place in Division 1 for next spring, their summer displays have been good enough to get them into the last eight of the championship.

There are two ways to look at their summer form. Wins over Offaly, Carlow, Laois and Clare suggest a level of consistency without making a statement of intent; the other way to look at it is that Meath have lost just three games across league and championship - to Donegal (twice) and Dublin.

Dublin's brilliance is well known and Donegal are best equipped to tackle them in many people's minds, and in each of those games Meath can point to aspects or periods of the game where they did well.

Whatever way you look at it, Meath have started to climb the hill, but things will get an awful lot steeper from here.

The sample size is admittedly small, but just one team in the first year of the Super 8s spent the previous spring outside of Division 1. Roscommon came into the All-Ireland quarter-finals in the same way Meath have, winning a round four qualifier after defeat in a provincial final.

Star man Enda Smith would describe what followed as embarrassing. They lost all three games by a combined total of 39 points - and that was a Rossies team that had previous experience of the top flight and winning a provincial title. Meath have neither.

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Still, the Royals roll into the last eight with a significant shift in psychology. They are 6/1 outsiders for the trip to Ballybofey on Sunday - where Donegal have lost just once in the last nine years - but in terms of physical development, the feeling within the Meath camp is that they are close to the top teams.

McEntee insisted on the appointment of strength and conditioning coach John Coghlan when he took up the job. The pair had worked together with the Meath minors when they reached the All-Ireland final in 2012 and later with Ballyboden St Enda's as they won a club All-Ireland title.

He had moved to China, where he helped the first Asian athlete to run 100m in under 10 seconds, but was brought back full-time with Meath on McEntee's appointment.

They are trying to learn on the hoof, too. Meath struggled desperately in attack in the Leinster final. A tally of 12 wides, four dropped short and two off the post tells its own story, but it's worth noting that their performance in front of goal improved dramatically against Clare. While they dropped a few short, they didn't kick a wide against Clare until the 46th minute.

"There was a lovely analogy put to us, a golfing analogy: our putting was very poor but the rest of our play was really, really good," Meath coach Colm Nally explained.

"It wasn't hard to sell it to them. They're not stupid, they knew that (it wasn't up to par).

"What we did was reinforce what we've been doing well all year and tried to improve on what we weren't doing well in that match, which was obviously the scoring.

"It takes a long time to build a team. The guys are here three or four years with them, building all these foundations and it takes a long time, you have knockbacks and bumps on the road, but the important thing is how you bounce back.

"Any win, against anybody the next day after that is going to be a massive positive."


The air gets much thinner now and Meath will have to learn how to operate at a much higher altitude, but that is what they have scrapped for.

"Look, everybody is putting them (Donegal) up as challengers to Dublin at the minute. Everything that they've shown to date is that they're progressing towards that," said Nally.

"The likes of Donegal and Tyrone, they've always had the beauty of being able to periodise their training for the Super 8s (such is their confidence that they will progress). We couldn't. We have had to take it one game at a time.

"Our job at this stage is going to be managing the players from week to week, whereas they were all set to peak around now. So it's going to be a really interesting test.

"The big thing for us as coaches, as a unit, as players, we're going to learn so much about it and about ourselves. It's where you want to be and it's the only way you're going to improve.

"Look, it's going to be the ultimate test up there, we're looking forward to it. It's where you want to be."

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