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Friday 9 December 2016

Keogan: We want to win Leinster - it's going to be tough but we think it's within our grasp

Meath’s Donal Keogan. Photo: Sportsfile
Meath’s Donal Keogan. Photo: Sportsfile

Fact: Meath had endured a six-year trophy famine before last Sunday's O'Byrne Cup final victory over Longford.

Fact: Donal Keogan and his fellow Royals have no intention of stopping there.

Two years running they've finished third in Division Two - securing Allianz League top-flight promotion is next on the priority list. And beyond that? "We want to win Leinster this year, for sure," says the Meath skipper.

His ambition is laudable given (a) Dublin's provincial vice-grip and (b) Meath's chequered summer history since Keogan came on board.

He harks back to 2010, when his county pilfered the Delaney Cup from Louth's grasp with that Joe Sheridan goal/try: then aged 19 and not officially part of the panel, he used to come in for training games under Éamon O'Brien. "I was waterboy with the lads that day. I didn't get a medal, no!" he clarifies.

This Sunday, Meath launch their NFL campaign at home to Armagh. The imperative of a flying start isn't lost on Keogan. "The last couple of years, we let ourselves down in the first couple of games in the league," he recounts.

"Last year, over in Galway we let ourselves down. The previous two years up in Monaghan. That's in the back of the heads as well. Two years ago, we came off the back of an O'Byrne Cup final against Kildare and went out and were stinking in the league (they lost their second game in Monaghan by 0-20 to 0-8) so we can't get ahead of ourselves now. We have to bring a real focus to Armagh and not take them for granted."

The Rathkenny man then reveals: "We made a promise, I suppose you could call it, at the start of the year that we wanted to win all the silverware we could win. That's not being arrogant or anything - it was just our plan. We wanted to win everything that was in front of us. That was the O'Byrne Cup, the first test, and it's one box ticked."

Next box? NFL promotion.

"We've missed out on points and head-to-heads over the last number of years. We only had ourselves to blame last year. We let a lead slip against Laois here and that ultimately cost us," he says.

Peering further ahead, Meath are desperate to reclaim their long-lost status as kings of Leinster. "There's no question it's going to be tough, but we think it's within our grasp," Keogan maintains.

"We're putting plans in place, learning how to play against teams. The one thing I felt about the O'Byrne Cup was that we're learning how to grind out games.

"We got caught in the Laois game in the league and lost the Westmeath game in the championship. If we'd been cleverer or more mature, we'd have ground it out instead of letting those leads slip - whereas this year against Laois we had the lead and it slipped down to one or two points but we ground it out.

"It was the same against Louth. We were up by four at half-time and they got it back to one, but we just ground it out. I think we've become a cleverer team and, with that progression, we can go far in Leinster," he concludes.

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