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Saturday 21 September 2019

Meath aiming to stop the rot

Leinster losers' record makes grim reading

HARD TO TAKE: Graham Reilly of Meath in action against Dublin on Sunday. Photo: SPORTSFILE
HARD TO TAKE: Graham Reilly of Meath in action against Dublin on Sunday. Photo: SPORTSFILE

So there you have it.

We'd wondered what it would look like for Dublin to have a competitive Meath team eyeing them up from the far side of the province, lustily plucking the lower-hanging Leinster fruit before contesting a provincial final with nothing, theoretically at least, to lose.

Turns out, it doesn't make much of a difference.

Meath will play their football in Division 1 of the League next year.

But on the explicit evidence of last Sunday, that is for purposes of spring competition only.

In cold, hard terms of quality, Andy McEntee's team are still mired in a grouping of teams some way short of the accepted batch of 'other' All-Ireland contenders who themselves, lag a considerable distance behind Dublin.

Of more immediate and crucial matters in the context of salvaging this summer is Meath's ability to regroup and win their All-Ireland SFC qualifier in two weeks time.

The omens aren't great. In every year of this decade, the beaten Leinster SFC finalists have gone on to lose their next game.

Thus the All-Ireland quarter-finals have been a Leinster loser-less affair.

"We set out to achieve things, to get to Division 1, to get to a Leinster final, and our third goal was to get to Super 8s," acknowledged Graham Reilly.

"So we'll have a bit of down time now for a couple of days and then we'll regroup during the week and we'll go at it again.

"I think this team is different," he asserted, "it's a different group.

"I really believe that no matter who we get we're going to put it up to them and that we'll be ready.

"It's going to hurt for a couple of days but we know we have to regroup and be ready to go for whoever we draw in Round 4."

Painful

There is context to the Leinster roll of misery.

Meath are the ninth beaten Leinster finalists in a row to lose to Dublin and as their winning margins indicate, they don't do things by half.

In 2012, Meath were forced to play Laois six days after they were beaten by just three points by Dublin (the closest any team has come in a Leinster final against them this decade) but in each of the other three, they were afforded either 13 days or a full fortnight.

Which is why, surely, Andy McEntee will have been up early yesterday morning to hear the draw for the third round of qualifiers.

Whatever way you look at it, the higher quality teams (Tyrone and Kildare, Mayo and Armagh) have been paired together, meaning there is a 50 per cent chance Meath could meet one of Laois, Offaly, Westmeath or Clare for a spot among this year's 'Super 8'.

Whether they have the energy to correct the painful shortcomings they displayed on Sunday in such a short space of time is open to interpretation.

"I know myself that I hit the post and I was also an inch or two wide," admitted Reilly, referencing Meath's woeful return for the number of chances they created.

"Like, Ben (Brennan) has been kicking those frees all year. I don't know, he's probably the man to ask why he missed one or two frees, but he's not the only lad.

"Lads were just kind of pulling at the ball and snatching at the ball.

"A lot of the time you're probably not in around the 'D' area, you were probably kicking from 40, 50 yards out which, if you take five or six shots from 40 or 50 yards out, you might only get one or two."

But as the evidence illustrates, Meath's next move will surely be decided by how they react mentally to such a chastening experience as Sunday's.

And that simply depends on how they get through the coming days.

"I hate to say it but you nearly get used to getting beaten by Dublin by so much," Reilly added, "it's not a nice feeling.

"That's my fifth Leinster final, I've lost four. They've all been by quite a wide margin, so it's not easy to take."

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