Sunday 23 September 2018

Meath and Donegal are both desperate for victory

Meath manager Andy McEntee with James Toher after their All-Ireland SFC Qualifier Round 2A victory over Sligo at Páirc Tailteann, Navan last Saturday. Pic: Sportsfile
Meath manager Andy McEntee with James Toher after their All-Ireland SFC Qualifier Round 2A victory over Sligo at Páirc Tailteann, Navan last Saturday. Pic: Sportsfile

Perhaps the most fascinating dynamic provided by the qualifiers is the opportunity to watch two teams on the cusp of disaster going at it to avoid Armageddon.

Nothing creates drama like desperation.

"Neither team has any real form going into the game," says Paddy Carr of Meath's hosting of Donegal tomorrow in Navan, one such clash between two sides who outwardly, appear extremely vulnerable just now. "Both teams have players who are playing in the championship this year who aren't even household names in their own counties."

As it goes, Carr has a fairly unique connections to both.

He is a native of Fanad and though he moved from Donegal at a young age, he returned to play for them in 1980 in their Ulster SFC defeat to Tyrone.

At that stage, he was playing his club football for Walterstown in Meath and managed the county's minors footballers in 2007.

Indeed, he has been interviewed for both the Meath and Donegal senior managers job. In 2010, Carr was among the nominations to take over as Meath boss but pulled out late in the process.

In October 2014, the Ballymun Kickhams manager was then nominated by Fanad Gaels to succeed Jim McGuinness as Donegal manager.


Then, as before, he withdrew after meeting with the county board, just prior to Rory Gallagher's appointment.

"There has to be a feeling of exasperation from the management," he observes of Meath's year.

"They believe that those players are better than what they have shown. And it may well be a relief to them that they are getting a team like Donegal.

"Because if they got over Donegal, that would be seen as being significant within the county.

"I would imagine that Andy and Gerry McEntee will be looking for a hell of a lot more leadership on the field than they have seen up until now.

"At the moment, you're in a situation where Meath are finding it hard to even get on to the same field as Dublin.

"There's all kinds of reasons for that. There has been a malaise behind the scene in Meath football for a number of years."

Donegal face a different quandary.

They have leaders and they have talented youth, they just haven't blended them yet.


Stripped of so many experienced players in one season, they have, as Carr observes, "tried to fast track a lot of these under-21s but it's about trying to get the chemistry right.

"Donegal maybe erred on the side of expecting too much from talented young lads too soon."

Unlike Meath then, they seem to have the potential but don't yet seem to have cracked the dynamic.

The Tyrone performance was damning of their ability to live with football's elite just now.

"He's probably left with no choice other than to freshen the team completely," Carr points out.

"I know people would say it would suit them better to get a draw in Ballybofey because it's a bit of a fortress but I think getting out of there could liberate some of those young fellas as well.

"But," Carr adds, "they have to go into that game as slight favourites."

Which doesn't reflect well on Meath.

They struggled with Sligo at home just as Donegal were forced to battle a little too hard with Longford in Ballybofey.

"The disappointing thing is, Meath always had leaders in the past," he stresses.

"Right back to the 80s teams, they just had players who seemed to know how to do what needed to be done. That's no criticism of anyone involved.

"But that certainly is what the management are trying to cultivate there. Because it was noticeable by its absence against Kildare."

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