Sunday 21 January 2018

Growing pains for Meath and McEntee after Lilies roasting

Andy McEntee has a big job on his hands to turn around the fortunes of Meath. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Andy McEntee has a big job on his hands to turn around the fortunes of Meath. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

Having watched his side be completely dismantled by Kildare, Meath manager Andy McEntee was at a loss to explain just how his team shipped a 10-point defeat as he briefed the media under the stand in Navan's Páirc Tailteann.

"I don't know if you can turn it around in a week," the Royal County boss mused as attentions turned to next Sunday's game with Derry.

"I had no complaints about attitude or anything like that, you would have felt lads were ready coming into the game and it pans out like that.

"You kind of wonder where it went wrong."

Plenty went wrong for the Royals, not least the disastrous start that saw them concede a goal after just 14 seconds, but McEntee would identify the concession of 3-17 (to 0-16) as their single biggest downfall.


Indeed, Kildare might have had another goal had Shane McEntee not cleared off his own line.

A systems failure further out the field left the full-back line exposed in a way not often seen in modern inter-county football, meaning the Royals need a significant overhaul ahead of the visit of Derry.

The mood in the county has darkened significantly since a closed season that bubbled with optimism. McEntee's appointment, coupled with a new investment from sponsor Devenish Nutrition, meant all looked positive heading into a new campaign.

The talent trawl was extensive, even including some Dublin natives. At one stage McEntee's squad extended to over 50, as Meath effectively ran two teams on the pre-Christmas challenge game circuit. When they were much too strong for Wicklow in their season opener, it seemed as if all was heading in the right direction.

However, successive home defeats to Louth and then to a Kildare team that themselves had been dealt a body blow when losing to a shadow Dublin outfit, have altered that outlook.

Now Derry loom on the horizon. They managed a draw at home to Clare on their opening weekend, but will travel to Navan with some confidence given that they knocked the Royals out of the championship last year.

It won't be lost on them that Meath have struggled against Ulster teams lately. Across the league and championship last year they met Northern opposition on six occasions, winning just once when they saw off Armagh in the opening round.

Home losses to Cavan and Tyrone, defeat in Fermanagh and a draw with Derry was their lot for the league before the Oak Leaf side beat them in the back door.

Last week, McEntee insisted that promotion was a realistic target for his side, but their relationship with Division 2 has been up and down since they returned to the second tier after a one-season spell in Division 3 in 2013.

For two seasons in a row they finished third under Mick O'Dowd, narrowly missing out on promotion, but last year saw them win just two games in the division and finish on six points, along with three other teams. This season should be similarly close.

McEntee has repeatedly stressed that Meath's development wouldn't go "in a straight line" and the Kildare defeat was a chastening experience for his squad, but there's little time for picking up the pieces.

McEntee, who could be without captain Graham Reilly for the game as his club, St Colmcille's, are in an All-Ireland IFC final the following weekend, wants the graph going upwards, sooner rather than later.

"Really it's about us," McEntee said. "We've got to focus on what we can do right and what we're doing wrong and deal with it fairly urgently."

Newbridge revamp

After getting their league campaign off to a flying start with a comprehensive victory over Meath, the good news just kept coming for Kildare GAA as they were granted planning permission for the first phase of the St Conleth's Park redevelopment project, writes Donnchadh Boyle.

The clubhouse building will be upgraded to include four dressing-rooms, meeting rooms and a kitchen, as well as office space and medical and control rooms.

Kildare GAA also confirmed that the playing surface at the revamped Newbridge venue will be upgraded to "closely match the Croke Park pitch".

Lilywhite officials also hope to build a new stand at the ground as part of phase two of the redevelopment. The stand could cost in excess of €3m and the county hopes to have that work finished by 2020.

Irish Independent

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