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Meath in a malaise

IN Meath, they're not slow to express displeasure at lulls in the county's footballing endeavours, so it was to be wholly expected when a significant portion of their support voted with their feet and left Páirc Tailtean on Sunday well before Donegal had completed their eventual six-point rout.

The gesture didn't go unnoticed by the players wearing the Meath jerseys either, according to Joe Sheridan.

By his own admission, Sunday's defeat by an albeit resurgent Donegal team in Navan was "the worst performance of the year" and, as a result, "confidence at the minute is very low among the whole team", leaving them facing a tough battle to preserve their status as a Division 2 team.

Sheridan is well placed to analyse. As a Meath player, he has been through the most of it and the least of it in their wildly oscillating fortunes in recent years.



Inexplicably

He was there in 2008 when they let a 10-point lead slip to Wexford in the Leinster championship and were inexplicably beaten. The Seneschalstown man was present again (thoughonly in a substitute's capacity) later that year when Meath were humiliated by Limerick by nine points in the qualifiers.

He was there for the euphoria of the 12-point destruction of Dublin last summer and he was the central player in the Leinster final controversy two weeks later. "It was the lowest point of the year so far. It's not a good position to be in," Sheridan admits of the Royal's current predicament.

It goes without saying that Sheridan believes their current form is temporary and that a successful defence of their Leinster crown can still be mounted but in the short term, dropping a division to is now a live possibility.

Searching for specific reasons for their lack of form has Sheridan bamboozled. The problems, he reckons, are across the board. Work rate, tackling, creativity, execution in front of goal.

"It just doesn't seem to be clicking at the moment," he says.

Inevitably, some will point to the teething problems experienced by first-year managers but Sheridan isn't inclined to make such an excuse.

"You can use that as an excuse for so long but we're long enough into it at this stage that we should know what we're at," he insists.

Therein lies somewhat of a mystery. Noted for their free-scoring forward lines, Meath have failed to accumulate more than 13 scores in any their four games in this year's league.

They've been having problems with discipline too. Four sendings off in four games, finishing with the full complement of 15 players just once on their opening day defeat by Laois.

Inevitably then, the dreaded 'r' word is at the forefront of Meath's collective mind, particularly so given their away form in the league over the past three years (one win and one draw in 12). In fact, siphoning more points on the road was one of Seamus McEnaney's stated goals upon taking office.

On Sunday, they travel to Kildare, the team that put them out of the championship in spectacular fashion last August and, more recently, ended Laois' unbeaten start to the season. After that it's away to high-flying Derry and then a home clash with Tyrone who, although resting just one place higher and two points better off then Meath, are charting a decidedly more upward curve than the Leinster champions.



Nervous

"They gave us a good beating in the quarter-final last year," says Sheridan, weighing up Meath's next crucial outing. "We remember that. It won't be hard to get up for it. It's just very hard when things aren't going well and you're putting in bad performances."

"We were very nervous on Sunday because we are in a bad position," he adds. "Lads are sitting back and not taking the risk and that happens when things aren't going well. When you're nervous, you don't try things you should be trying. For us, when we play safe, we tend to lose the ball.

"A lot of the supporters were unhappy after the match on Sunday and understandably so," Sheridan notes. "But the lads are working hard.

"It's a very small margin. It's just something we can get right hopefully sooner rather than later and not get stuck in a relegation battle."