Sunday 20 January 2019

McEntee welcomes earlier start after abrupt end to season

Meath senior football manager Andy McEntee. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
Meath senior football manager Andy McEntee. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Andy McEntee may have issues with playing rules being experimented with in the league and a current championship format based around the top eight teams playing off in All-Ireland quarter-finals but O'Byrne Cup rounds being brought forward to December? He's certainly not in a position to complain about that.

Meath have been idle since the second weekend in June when Tyrone edged them out by a point after a qualifier that went to extra-time.

Lying low for so long so often, missing out on the developmental aspect that a sustained championship run could bring, has hurt Meath badly over the years.

"They could play them in November, it wouldn't bother me. We need games," the Meath manager insisted. "I think it's a far better time. Even weather-wise, you're probably better off in December than you are in January or February."

McEntee accepts Meath's early championship departure has stalled progress as they get caught in a vicious circle.

"It's definitely too early for this team to be out," he said of their 2018 exit. "It is tough. I don't agree with the format, I've never agreed with the format.

"If you want to have a round-robin, you want to have a 'Super 8s', you have that at the start. There's no other sport in the world I can think of that has knockout followed by a round-robin. The very nature of a round-robin competition is that you get teams into a knockout situation," he said.

"I'm aware that would mean changing the provincial system, but the challenge for a team in Connacht - and I'm not picking on anybody here - is a different challenge from a team in Ulster or a team in Leinster.

"It's different numbers to get into a Super 8s.

"You're looking for equality all round, you're looking to create a situation that is fair, where everybody gets the same crack of the whip as everybody else," said McEntee who favours eight groups of four playing off to advance, ahead of the current system.

"Look at Tyrone, I think they ended up playing 10 games. So for us with the stage of development that we're at, it's all about games at a certain quality and championship level.

"It's very hard to close a gap on somebody else when they're getting 10 games and you're getting two."

But Meath's priority now is to attain Division 1 status, something that has eluded them since the leagues were reformatted in 2007.

With Donegal and Kildare dropping and Armagh and Fermanagh climbing from Division 3, he accepts it's going to be harder.

"It's time for Division 1. I think there are certain areas that we've made progress on, there are other areas that we haven't made enough progress on.

"It will be a testing time. You look at the schedule for the league, and if you're not ready for it, things can go downhill very quickly and it can spiral out of control."

Meath have welcomed back Mickey Newman and Pádraig Harnan after they missed 2018 through travel and work commitments but Donal Lenihan and Joey and Eamonn Wallace have all departed, though McEntee says Eamonn Wallace could yet come back into the picture as he rests a series of muscle injuries.

There have also been backroom changes with former Louth coach Colm Nally on board as Andy's older brother Gerry departs. "Gerry's commitment to his job (surgeon) makes it a very draining schedule for him," he said.

Dundalk goalkeeper Gary Rogers has linked up with McEntee as goalkeeping coach, replacing Cormac Sullivan. Andy McEntee was speaking at the launch of the Seán Cox benefit match between Meath and Dublin which takes place in Navan on Sunday at 1.30pm. Tickets are available from all usual outlets

Irish Independent

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