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Saturday 16 February 2019

Banty critics ready to pounce

It’s win or bust for McEnaney as Royal rumblings threaten to end short tenure

THREE days and counting to Meath's opening defence of that crazily clinched Leinster title. But is the clock also ticking on their debutant boss?

That may seem a strange and unfairly harsh statement to make about any manager pre-championship, but this has been the strangest of seasons for Seamus McEnaney.

The original appointment of Meath's first ‘outside’ manager wasn't exactly met with the Royal seal of grassroots approval, and any hope of silencing the naysayers was stymied by a grim sequence of league results.

Bizarrely, Meath avoided relegation to Division 3 by claiming a paltry three points. Even more bizarrely, one of their games ended with a ‘belly-tickling’ confrontation between ‘Banty' and his sideline counterpart this Sunday, Kildare's Kieran McGeeney.

Still, their last-day league survival after their one genuinely uplifting display – a draw with Tyrone – prompted talk that maybe Meath had turned the corner and that their non-native supremo was a lucky general after all.

And then he went looking up Graham Geraghty's number... The fallout from his decision to bring a 38-year-old veteran out of three-year cold storage has been predictably messy.

Critically, he has lost his two homegrown selectors, the departures of a disaffected Liam Harnan and Barry Callaghan leaving the ‘Northern Alliance' triumvirate of McEnaney, coach Paul Grimley and trainer Martin McElkennon squarely in the firing line should their big gamble go belly-up.

Talk to some Meath insiders and they'll suggest Banty is a dead manager walking. The one way to silence such talk is to keep on winning (or rather start winning, in Meath's case) and McEnaney has already shown during his Monaghan reign that he’s willing to play high-stakes poker in pursuit of that aim.

ALTERNATIVE

Gerry Cooney was the homegrown alternative last November: in an interview with the Evening Herald at the time, he maintained that his management proposal was “investing in the future of Meath” whereas the McEnaney bid “seems like a quick-fix solution”. You could say that view has been vindicated with Geraghty’s return, but Cooney isn’t in the mood to say ‘I told you so’.

Instead he declares: “I'm a (Meath) supporter. I don't agree with everything that has happened but, at the same time, you'd be wishing them well.”

Cooney attended five of Meath's seven league outings.

“Preparations haven't been good, there are no signs that it's going to turn, and yet people are hoping that the players will produce something special on the day. But it's more in hope than expectation,” he admits.

“I would like to see some of the younger lads being given a run,” he adds, speaking before the unveiling of a team that includes two U21 debutants, half-backs Bryan Menton and Ciarán Lenehan. “Otherwise you are really going back to last year's team, which arguably wasn't good enough.”

But how will the players respond to the recent furore? “You could, in a strange way, get a reaction,” Cooney says.

“The timing of it (the resignations of Harnan and Callaghan) was very strange … it could have interrupted the preparations for the game and the team must come first regardless. If they weren't happy, they might have sat down and aired their views after.

“I believe that the players have knuckled down and got on with it, and played well (in a challenge) against Galway in Mullingar. There could be a positive spin-off out of it, who knows?”

Former selector Dudley Farrell, whose son Brian is part of the panel, is far more critical. He paints the scenario of aspiring 21-year-olds trying to make the panel, only to see a 38-year-old suddenly reappear.

“You have to look at the big picture. It's not just next Sunday, or this year's Leinster,” Farrell maintains.

The prospect of no Meath involvement on the management team leaves him angry. McEnaney has been instructed by the Meath County Board to source two new ‘native’ selectors but secretary Cyril Creavin confirmed that “there is no danger of it happening before Sunday”.

“I just think it's very strange to be looking out into Croke Park and there’s no Meath man on the line. I think that is just crazy,” Farrell complains.

As for all the managerial upheaval in the post-Boylan era, he says: “We have to get a bit of stability. I know the players themselves have to take responsibility for a lot out on the field and I wouldn't be shunting anything from the players ... but they have to be led properly as well.”

For all that, Farrell expects Meath to “give Kildare their fill of it” this Sunday. And if they don’t, especially if the Geraghty gamble backfires badly?

Then expect hell to pay at the next county board meeting on June 13.

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