Saturday 24 August 2019

John Greene: 'Common sense demands that Royals change structures to build success'

Expecting miracles from Andy McEntee will only get you so far. Photo: Sportsfile
Expecting miracles from Andy McEntee will only get you so far. Photo: Sportsfile

John Greene

It is extraordinary to think that Dublin are seen as 1/50 shots to win the Leinster championship again today. It will be their 14th in 15 seasons but most people have long since stopped caring, and if some of the stories doing the rounds are to be believed, that includes the Dublin players.

What is the point of today's game? For Dublin, it's a stepping stone to a five-in-a-row that has an air of inevitability about it. For Meath, it is a measure of progress - of sorts at least.

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Andy McEntee has done a good job with what he has at his disposal - not just the panel of players he is working with, but the county he is working in. Promotion to Division 1 was a big step forward; avoiding obliteration today will be another positive outcome. If Meath go on to make it into the Super 8, then 2019 will be judged as a successful season.

Still, is it not a sign of where Gaelic football is right now that a proud and once defiant football county like Meath is resigned to just making up the numbers in a Leinster final? Discussions on today's game in the build-up have focused on the 12-point handicap - an artificial gambling construct - and whether Dublin will beat it or not. That's what this game has been reduced to.

There has been no talk of key match-ups, or tactics, or players to watch... the only point of interest appears to be the winning margin, and if it will be over or under 12 points.

A lot is made of Dublin's advantage over the chasing pack, in terms of numbers, resources and financial muscle, and about how much money has been pumped into the county's GAA network. Of course this has made a huge difference to the county's current run of success, which looks like being an historic one, but it doesn't account for so many other counties (including Meath) falling asleep at the wheel.

In the last eight years, since Dublin made that breakthrough All-Ireland win, only Mayo have consistently landed a glove on them in battle. Donegal came and went; Kerry came and went; but Mayo kept coming back (for a while at least). Meath have lingered among the also-rans, never rising to the challenge.

How much of that is down to financial imbalances? And how much is down to simply not having your own house in order? The feeling persists that the management structure at the heart of the GAA in Meath has been limping along for far too long, without a clear vision or strategy about how to return the county to its former glory. Expecting miracles from the likes of McEntee will only get you so far. Today will show us that.

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It's easy to cast envious glances at your rich neighbours and make soft excuses for your own persistent failures; it's harder to face up to the harsh reality that an overhaul is needed in Meath GAA, so that the right structures can be put in place to ensure Meath teams can challenge Dublin again in five or 10 years' time.

When you drill beneath the surface in Meath you don't have to go too far to find problems. There is discord at club level, a growing gap between the top table and the grassroots which will only do further harm. Not that the problems in Meath are exclusive to there. The same situation is playing out in so many other counties.

Even Mayo, having gone toe to toe with the champions, are showing signs of becoming another one of the GAA's inter-county basket cases.

Colm O'Rourke used to say that the only certainties in life are death, taxes and Kerry for the All-Ireland. At least repeated stingings at the hands of their old enemy in recent years focused minds in the Kingdom, and they now look the one team in the country making a serious, concerted effort to take on Dublin's dominance.

They may have to wait a year or two more, however.

Why can't Meath do likewise? Or Tyrone? Or Galway? Or Cork? Or Donegal? Or Armagh? They have all won All-Ireland titles in the last 20 years.

Forget about resources for a moment; what failure in imagination is holding them back? Why can't they at least compete with Dublin on the field? 15 against 15 . . .

Meath won the Leinster minor title last year (in its first year as an under-17 competition) for the first time in 10 years, while it is 18 years since the county's last under-21 success. This does not speak of a county which has got things right off the pitch; rather it has the look of Sisyphus pushing the stone up a steep hill only for it to roll back down every time it nears the top. Doing the same thing all the time and expecting a different outcome is not a blueprint for success.

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