Geraghty: Meath must take direct route to survival
"There is no honeymoon period with this job. The pressure starts when you step foot out of the chapel and we are not expecting Meath supporters to give us eight or nine months to find our feet" -- Meath selector Paul Grimley
LEAGUE football often seemed to be well down Sean Boylan's list. His Meath teams that limped through the preliminaries would be viewed with suspicion and he routinely tipped them to emerge from the 'long grass' for a whole-hearted championship tilt.
And with just two games left to preserve their Division 2 status, the current Meath management team are certainly further behind the curve than they expected to be. At the start of the year, promotion was a possibility, but now relegation to the third tier is almost a reality.
Still, a smash and grab is not beyond them, even if they must beat Derry in Celtic Park tomorrow and then repeat the trick at home to Tyrone to pull it off. With Monaghan last year, Seamus McEnaney managed to stave off relegation from Division 1, despite losing to Kerry on the final day.
Instead Tyrone and Derry dropped a division and the Oak Leaf county have a chance to avenge that tomorrow, where a win for the home side and victories for Antrim and Sligo would all but demote the Royals.
Meath's recent record against Derry isn't convincing and even when they were top dogs, Derry were a constant thorn. Back in the league final of 2000, Meath were All-Ireland champions when they drew with the Ulster men in a dour affair in Croke Park that is best remembered for a patron throwing a bottle at referee Michael Curley.
Anthony Tohill inspired Derry to a replay success in Clones a fortnight later. It was a sign of things to come for Meath who were dumped out of Leinster by Offaly the following week.
Where Meath stand now is a matter of debate. Bernard Flynn branded the performance against Donegal as one of the "worst he has ever seen from a Meath team." Colm O'Rourke wants the players to bury the "individual ego" and wrote that "if the level of effort was good against Kildare, it is not something that should be applauded; that is the very minimum expected when putting on a county jersey and it was not there in the previous two games." McEnaney insisted that defeat to the Lilywhites, a dry run for Meath's championship opener should Kildare beat Wicklow, was "Meath's first good performance of the year."
Meath have won one of their last 13 games on the road, while Navan doesn't enjoy the fortress status it once held, as Donegal showed. Their dismal away record was inherited by the McEnaney regime.
During the winter, Grimley hinted there would be only minor tweaks to Meath's game plan and former star Graham Geraghty urged the Royals to stick to their traditional approach.
"If anything over the last few years I thought Meath were holding on to it a little too long, looking for the perfect ball and trying to walk it into the net," said the 1999 All-Ireland winning captain.
"Sometimes there is something to be said for getting it in early and often.
"Lots of teams are trying this 'northern style' of football. Kerry and Cork play fairly direct and it has served them well.
"Under Sean, the league was where young fellas like me and several others got their chance to show what they can do. Meath are doing a lot of that at the minute, so you'll look to the senior players to take up the slack.
"But it's hard to see them getting points off Derry and Tyrone the way things are going, so they could be going down. I wouldn't be too worried yet. You have to give them the benefit of the doubt. There are good teams in Division 2, but it'd be disappointing for McEnaney to go down."