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If last summer's result is repeated, Meath would be advised to pack their top-flight holiday bags and head for home

Frank Roche


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Thomas O'Reilly of Meath in action against Eoghan Bán Gallagher of Donegal during the Allianz Football League Division 1 Round 2 match at Páirc Tailteann in Navan, Meath. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

Thomas O'Reilly of Meath in action against Eoghan Bán Gallagher of Donegal during the Allianz Football League Division 1 Round 2 match at Páirc Tailteann in Navan, Meath. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Thomas O'Reilly of Meath in action against Eoghan Bán Gallagher of Donegal during the Allianz Football League Division 1 Round 2 match at Páirc Tailteann in Navan, Meath. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

It's Croke Park in July and Meath have reached the promised land of the Super 8s. At long last, back among the big boys – what many would believe to be their birthright.

They had lost a week earlier in Ballybofey, faltering in the home straight from a position of strength; now once again they have their noses in front.

What happened next, you could argue, cuts to the heart of Meath's current dilemma, just two weekends into a new Allianz League campaign...

  • Meath are two up well into the third quarter, Mayo are teetering, but then Cillian O'Sullivan spurns a glorious chance to stretch their lead to three.
  • A few minutes later, after a Cillian O'Connor brace has restored parity, the Royals cut through the centre of Mayo's defence. It's the type of move that often ends in a goal for Dublin; but this is not Dublin and Séamus Lavin, perhaps betraying his corner-back roots, blasts over.

Meath are now one clear again - but it could have been more. And when the whistle sounds some 25 minutes later, they have lost by nine...

This Sunday in Páirc Tailteann, battle resumes between two counties who became the best of enemies way back in 1996 for reasons that require no further explanation.

One regular Royal watcher yesterday described it as a "massive game" - not because of any festering rivalry from the '90s, we should stress, but because victory, even so early in the year, is now imperative.

Put bluntly, if last summer's result is repeated, Meath would be advised to pack their top-flight holiday bags and head for home (aka Division 2) before we've even hit the halfway stage of the campaign.

The yo-yo effect involving counties moving between the top two league tiers is now firmly established. Roscommon are one example; Cavan an even more spectacular one.

Even before a ball was kicked, Andy McEntee's squad were among the favourites to follow this well-worn path.

Truth is, even the league's top tier is more like two divisions in one: you have Dublin, Kerry and a few other mainstays (depending on the year) and then at the other end you have three or four scrambling for survival, and this nearly always includes those just promoted.

Donegal may be this year's exception - but the back-to-back Ulster champions were, we suspect, merely interloping in Division 2 last season.

The challenge for Meath is multi-layered - lack of experience at this level, a tendency to cough up too many goals, their recent goalkeeping travails - but perhaps the obvious starting point goes back to those critical chances against Mayo last July.

They are not prolific or ruthless enough, especially when stepping up a level. You could see this in last year's Leinster final, confined to a paltry 0-4 by Dublin.

This trait was less apparent in the Super 8s, even if their final tallies of 1-13 (Donegal), 0-14 (Mayo) and 1-13 (Kerry) were never likely to be enough.

But their shortcomings in attack have been glaringly exposed at the start of this league. They shot 1-9 against an understrength Tyrone and then just 0-7 at home to Donegal on Sunday, when only one Meathman - Thomas O'Reilly with a neatly executed 0-3 - scored from play.

In the injury-enforced absence of target men such as Mickey Newman (who will miss the entire league) and rising star Shane Walsh, their forward line lacks the physicality and power to penetrate elite defences.

Perhaps Mayo, minus a host of hard core veterans and themselves limited to just 0-8 against Dublin, might be just the type of vulnerable opponent that Meath crave next.

But beyond that, the fixtures look unforgiving: Kerry and Dublin look like banker away defeats, nor would you wager too extravagantly on a points dividend from Galway (home) or Monaghan (away).

Last summer, Meath were ultra-competitive - up to a point. They led Donegal after 56 minutes, Mayo after 53, and were level with Kerry after 40.

But then the wheels came off and they lost all three by a cumulative 26 points.

The daunting challenge now is to prove that this wasn't their glass ceiling.

Online Editors