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Sinking Royals have yet to reach rock bottom

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It's increasingly unlikely
that Seamus McEnaney
will be extending his role
with the Royals beyond
the championship

It's increasingly unlikely that Seamus McEnaney will be extending his role with the Royals beyond the championship

It's increasingly unlikely that Seamus McEnaney will be extending his role with the Royals beyond the championship

Between them they have 15 All-Ireland titles, but for three of the traditional powers of Gaelic football, Sunday was a black day.

Cavan have become well accustomed to mediocrity in modern times, but for them to be so far adrift of the promotion places in Division 3 and so close to relegation represented a new low in their recent fortunes.

At least they have Ulster minor and U-21 titles from 2011 to build from, and another Ulster U-21 final appearance to look forward to.

Offaly are also used to struggling, having had a recent spell in Division 4, but to return to the basement division so quickly will be a further dent on morale.

They too can console themselves with the knowledge that the writing has been on the wall since the beginning of the season, their first four defeats giving rise to speculation that Gerry Cooney had offered to step down from his position as manager.

That speculation was never made concrete and they recovered to record their only league win, over Cavan. But Sunday's defeat to an already relegated Tipperary has only served to make a bad season worse.

Meath's fall is most alarming, given the successes they've enjoyed over the last 25 years. Even two years ago they were able to scramble their way to a Leinster title, having contested an All-Ireland semi-final 11 months earlier.

The scale of some of their defeats over the last four to five years has been quite staggering, from the 2008 collapse to Wexford to the qualifier mauling later that year to Limerick and the defeats on the road in the league to Tipperary and Antrim in recent years.

Like the property collapse, however, the bottom may not even have been reached for their declining football fortunes.

That's the stark reality facing a county which has not even contested a provincial U-21 final for the last 11 years. Demotion to Division 3 brings Meath to a place where they haven't been since the late 1970s, when the the county slumped to their previous lowest ebb.

When they line up on the starting grid for next year's league, seven Leinster counties (Dublin and Kildare in Division 1 and Laois, Wexford, Longford, Westmeath and Louth in Division 2) will be operating in the divisions above them.

Inevitably, there is a focus on Seamus McEnaney's tenure as Meath manager, but the calendar looks like it will be kind to him.

Having already declared that he is ready to "fight" on, McEnaney's bolt for survival will be helped by the scheduling of the next county board meeting, which is not until early May.

By then there will have been sufficient distance from the debacle of Pairc Tailteann on Sunday, a couple of rounds of the club championship will have been played and their opening-round clash of the Leinster championship against Wicklow will be just weeks away.

The appetite for forcing change by then will have abated and there would be little logic in making a move at that point. In the meantime, the officers of Meath County Board are unlikely to move against him, even with so much opposition prevalent in the county.

McEnaney had, after all, support from the top table when he was appointed, and relations have never been less than cordial ever since.

Support from within the dressing-room looks to be still there too, with satisfaction with the structures and professionalism he brought to preparations.

With no obvious and willing candidate to replace him, the temptation will be to ride out the inevitable storm whipping up around a sequence of such bad results, which have been progressively worse since the one-point defeat to Kildare at the beginning of March.

But if McEnaney had any hopes of completing his three-year term, which is subject to review at the end of this year, they have subsided over the last two rounds of the league.

The experiment of bringing in an outside manager is over and will be brought to a conclusion once interest in the championship is at an end.

In that sense, McEnaney really has nothing more to lose. He has accepted his responsibility for such poor performances, but can he really hope to change things around over the next couple of months? The pressure on him could continue to permeate into what is clearly a dressing-room now drained of confidence.

beyond

Privately he'll know that if beating Louth at home to preserve your Division 2 status is beyond his side by so much, then the game is effectively up.

With little prospect of any championship traction, thoughts are already turned to 2013 and beyond.

Meath's administration structures are being openly questioned by former players, and the need for fresh leadership has never been more apparent. The case for a full-time chief executive with flair and imagination grows.

On RTE radio last night, Bernard Flynn spoke of his "guilt" as a former player at what has happened and called for cultural change and responsibility to be claimed. "People have to put their hands up now," he said.

But too many have been saying the same thing for too long now without required action, and still the ship continues to drift into deeper seas.

Irish Independent