Gillespie revels in return but regrets Laois
CONOR GILLESPIE believes Meath were the "best team" in Division Two of the Allianz Football League, despite missing out on promotion - and traces their ultimate failure back to the blowing of a seven-point lead against Laois last month.
Mick O'Dowd's men finished their meandering campaign with back-to-back wins over Down and Cavan. That left them level on points with Roscommon, who went up because of their head-to-head win over the Royals ... but Gillespie identified the earlier home draw with Laois as pivotal.
"We actually felt we were the best team in the division this year - but we slipped up against Laois, and we shouldn't have," he lamented.
"We were in a winning position and let it slip, and that's what cost us ultimately. What were we, seven points up? And with the game in our control."
On a more positive, personal note, Meath's late league burst has coincided with Gillespie's own return from an injury hell stretching back well over a year.
He sat out last year's league with ankle and shoulder injuries but was back pushing for a summer start before he tore his cruciate ligament in training last June.
"I'm just delighted to be back out there," said the towering Summerhill midfielder, who came off the bench against Roscommon before starting the last two rounds. "I haven't played since the O'Byrne Cup final, last year, and one of the things I'm most happy about is that when I'm out there now I don't even think about the knee. I still have some work to do to get it back right, but it hasn't bothered me in a game so far."
Looking at the league in totality, he surmised: "We've ultimately ended up on the same points as last year, but I do feel we're in a better position and were getting better as the league went on. And we would have been fairly confident had we, say, got to Croke Park for a Division Two final. It didn't work out that way."
But have they closed the gap on Dublin? "Well, you won't find that out in the league. You will only find that out in the Leinster final in Croke Park," he demurred.
"You can talk about all you want, but the proof is in the pudding. I think we have developed a little more strength in depth. We haven't had a full team, and there are a lot of lads who have come in for a first league - the likes of Brian Power, Adam Flanagan and James McEntee. That has hopefully strengthened the squad."