Farney an inspiration for Meath – Conor Gillespie
Midfielder insists Division 3 status no barrier to title tilt as Royals bid to topple Tyrone
MEATH'S towering midfielder Conor Gillespie feels that his side can draw belief from Monaghan's Ulster final win over Donegal as the Royals take on Tyrone in Round 4 of the qualifiers at Croke Park tomorrow.
Monaghan played in Division 3 of the NFL but that didn't affect them adversely as they caused one of the shocks of the championship by brushing aside All-Ireland champions Donegal to claim the Ulster title for the first time in 25 years.
Teams operating in the two lower divisions of the league tend to find it difficult when they come face to face with the top-tier sides, but the Farney men bucked that trend and now Meath will attempt to do the same when they face the Red Hands for only the third time in championship history.
"The fact that Monaghan caused an upset shows that despite coming from Division 3 you can still win in the championship," said Summerhill man Gillespie. "I think this year Division 3 was quite strong, you can even see from Cavan and the way they have performed, it was almost stronger than Division 2.
"Meath have a tradition of doing well in the championship, so maybe that league status doesn't hold the same for us. There is a notable difference playing Division 3 league and then coming up against the likes of Dublin in the championship – but there is a difference anyway between playing league and championship.
"It's difficult to build long-term success if you are constantly playing teams from the lower grades. You just fall into that cycle, so gradually you want to get up to Division 1 status. But in the short term I think you can raise your game in a one-off, the way Monaghan did."
The midfield tussle between Gillespie and Brian Meade against Sean and Colm Cavanagh will be one of the key areas in the battle for a quarter-final spot.
Sean Cavanagh has been a pivotal figure for Tyrone since making his senior debut in 2002, and the four-time All Star has the ability to dominate around the middle as well as forge through opposing defences for crucial scores. Gillespie is looking forward to the challenge of taking on the high- fielding Moy man.
"Tyrone have had quite good displays from their midfield so far, especially Sean Cavanagh," Gillespie said. "It's a tough challenge but I am looking forward to playing against Sean, you want to test yourself against the best.
"No one who plays Tyrone gets an easy game. In the league final they ran Dublin to the pin of their collar. Maybe they are not just at the level when they won All-Irelands in 2005 and 2008, but they are not that far away either."
Most pundits feared the worst for Meath going in against Dublin in the Leinster final but a creditable display saw the Royals dominate the midfield exchanges until Dublin boss Jim Gavin sent for reinforcements.
Expectations are much higher in the county now following that encouraging performance, but Gillespie doesn't believe that this has brought on any added pressure.
"I don't think so, because the expectation from within the group was that we were going to beat Dublin as well," he said. "You go out thinking you are going to win, so you create enough internal pressure anyway. You don't pay too much heed from an outside perspective.
"It is going to be a different challenge to the Dublin game. Dublin are a bit more flamboyant in attack and leave a little more space at the back; Tyrone will be a little bit tighter.
"Obviously we didn't get the result we wanted against Dublin but in parts of that game we got the performance we wanted. It shows that the work we are doing is coming through on the pitch, so it is a little bit of a confidence builder as well."
Having two weeks to prepare from the provincial final is of huge benefit, according to Gillespie, an employee at PricewaterhouseCoopers.
"In the immediate aftermath of the Leinster final there was huge disappointment and that would be a lot more difficult to overcome with a six-day turnaround," said Gillespie. "The two weeks enables you to get the defeat out of the system and then focus on the next challenge.
"We can expect a physical encounter. Tyrone maybe have a reputation for that over the past years but it's what you expect at this stage of the championship."
This fixture will rekindle memories of the only two previous championship clashes between the counties, both of which were won by Meath.
Tyrone were none too happy with the manner of their 2-15 to 0-12 defeat in the All-Ireland semi-final of 1996, when key men Brian Dooher and Peter Canavan pick up nasty injuries. The finger was pointed at the Meath men for the physical nature of their play.
Tyrone joint-manager Eugene McKenna suggested the following day that Tyrone would have to be more mean-spirited when they next played at Croke Park. The controversy raged for a full week but Tyrone folk would now contend that that game actually toughened their resolve to win their first All-Ireland title in 2003.
The only other clash between the counties was in 2007, when Mickey Harte's team were red-hot favourites at the quarter-final stage. Meath, though, had other ideas under Colm Coyle and, boosted by a memorable goal from Graham Geraghty, won by 1-13 to 2-8.