'We're trying to put up the best performance we can' - Meath boss Andy McEntee hopeful of Dublin shock
If there was a single sentence uttered at Meath’s recent Leinster final press night that could be classed as revealing as to their mindset ahead of this, their first provincial decider in five years, it came cloaked in the measured sentiments of Andy McEntee.
"Our season won't be determined by the result on Sunday," he said, staunchly.
Which might be just as well.
When McEntee assumed the role of Meath manager in 2016, fresh from an unexpected All-Ireland club win with Ballyboden St Enda’s, neither ambition and optimism were scant.
The team had a new sponsor, Devenish, and informed rumour had it that McEntee would want for nothing financially in his preparation of this Meath team.
With his brother, Royals legend Gerry, on board and a public acknowledgement of what was required to elevate the county towards old glories, they had arrived at Base Camp on a clear day with a direct line of sight to the summit.
And, naturally, Dublin formed much of the initial talk.
For reasons of geography, Meath have always gauged themselves against Dublin.
Now, in this unprecedented era of blue dominance, it wasn't just inevitable that Dublin would be marked as Meath's target, it was necessary.
"I think the quantum of players that can play at inter-county level has improved and increased," McEntee observes of his work over the past two turbulent years.
"I think you can see by the quality of some of the players that are not regulars on the Meath team. That’s one of the things.
"I think physically the team has improved.
"The way Dublin have approached it, they're putting layer upon layer upon layer. You have a lot of guys there who have been around for quite some time.
"We're just probably beginning to see the benefit of that continuous work from a fitness and strength perspective.
"There's a good group of that 2012 minor team involved. And I think they were a decent template to follow. And it's starting to come through now.
"You can see over the last few years we’ve been successful at U-17, U-18 and U-20 level. Reasonably successful without landing any national title.
"And you're starting to see that with the quality of players coming through. So it’s starting to show, I think."
McEntee is acutely aware that if he leads his team into battle convinced of their capability to beat Dublin and it ends as most expected it will on Sunday, the scarring could be fatal in the context of Meath’s stated seasonal goal – qualification for this year’s Super 8s.
If he approaches the game as the classic shot to nothing, it is almost a concession of defeat to a group of players who may not be convinced of their chances to win in the first place.
"It's not the way we're looking at it," McEntee stresses.
"We're trying to put up the best performance we possibly can. Let's see where that takes us.
"On any given day, you're gonna win or lose. If we can perform with some of the qualities we’d like to associate with Meath football, I think that will be enough."
All of this is predicated on Dublin.
Meath have been consistent to a point this year, climbing out of the murky backwaters of Division 2 of the league and improving in each of their three Leinster SFC matches to date.
But Dublin are relentless.
"That's what they have a tendency to do," McEntee agrees.
"You could even see that last week (against Kildare), when the game was well and truly over – and they just keep hammering and hammering and hammering.
"And that's a credit to them and a measure of their hunger and desire.
"That's something we’ve just got to match and put up the best performance. It might sound a little bit boring and a little bit repetitive – but the best performance that we could put up in the year to date and anything we’ve done over the last number of years."
If that task is daunting, it's not unfamiliar.
McEntee worked closely with current and former Dubs in Michael Darragh Macauley, Darragh Nelson, Declan O’Mahony, Robbie McDaid and Collie Basquel in his time with Ballyboden St Enda's.
"And the insight you get," he explains, "is these guys are super athletes. And it doesn’t happen by accident. It gets there by sheer hard work.
"And contrary to most of the beliefs," he adds smiling, "that I would have had before I went to Ballyboden, they're pretty decent fellas too."
Nostalgia aside, there is genuine hope now that Meath can drag themselves into the realms of consistent rivals to Dublin over the coming seasons.
They will play in Division 1 next year and as McEntee points out, that is the straightforward, if endlessly challenging, aim now for the county.
"I think given the demographics of Meath and the population ... the truth of the matter is we've got to roll up our sleeves and we've got to put the work in," he stresses.
"I think you're starting to see it at under-age level. We’re starting to be consistently competitive. And that has to be the long-term goal for everybody."