STRANGE but true... if you were to compile a shortlist of the most hapless halves of football produced at inter-county level this spring, Meath could boast at least three contenders among the 'top' 10.
The second half away to Monaghan, the first halves at home to Cavan and Sligo, each one dredging the bottom of a very deep barrel.
Now for the really strange bit: despite all the above, Meath's promotion destiny remains firmly in their own hands. If they can beat Antrim away in this Sunday's refixed Allianz League clash, then clip the wings of high-flying Fermanagh at home seven days later, then the rollercoaster Royals will be saying goodbye and good riddance to Division Three after just one season.
Given their wild oscillations of form, it's very hard to get a firm grip on where exactly Meath now lie in the Gaelic football firmament. Colm O'Rourke has witnessed all of their league matches and is mildly encouraged by the direction of the form graph – from an admittedly rock-bottom starting point in Monaghan. He is also an advocate of new manager Mick O'Dowd and his preferred method of play.
But here's the rub... in the All-Ireland scheme of things, he warns that Meath are struggling to be ranked among the top 10 or 12 teams in the country and the climb back to the summit will be a long-term project.
"I was at the Sligo game and I thought there were signs of significant improvement in the second half. And as players come back, I think that Meath will be stronger," predicted the legendary Royal, speaking at the launch of Masita Ireland's sponsorship of the GAA All-Ireland Post Primary Schools Championships in Croke Park yesterday.
"But I'd be very patient with the present management team. I'd be hoping that they could be around for three or four years and given a proper chance to see can they work, because I think there's a very good group in charge of the team and I think they're going about it the right way."
Patience must be a virtue, he reasons, by dint of necessity.
"The Monaghan game was just a dreadful performance, and the Cavan game too," O'Rourke recounts. "But Meath are where they are because they deserve to be where they are.
"They've won very few away league games over the last three years, so putting Meath maybe in the top 10 or 12 in the country is probably about the level they are at the moment. Maybe not even that in terms of championship football."
Quizzed about Meath's supposed reluctance to embrace modern tactics, O'Rourke demurred: "With Banty (McEnaney) there they did develop a short-passing game, which the supporters didn't like very much. Especially the north Meath supporters, that wing of the tribe!
"Anyway, I think that these lads have a better style ... but I think you're right, Meath have found it very difficult to cope with the idea of playing a very modern, defensive-type game, which it looks like you have to develop to win any more."
On the subject of supporter patience, he ventured: "I think there's an acceptance now that we're not in the best place and that it's going to take a bit of time. People realise too that we need to have a new look at the way that underage football is run at club level, at county level, and in schools.
"So I think there's more of an acceptance now of the need to change and to try and improve things. I think it may take years. I don't think there's any instant solution, and I don't think that people should be that expectant of this summer's campaign, certainly."
So much for the bigger picture. The small one entails a brace of looming encounters with northern opposition, but O'Rourke isn't hung up on the notion of these being 'must-win' games for the future of Meath football.
"I wouldn't worry too much about promotion. Too much pressure is put on to get an instant rebound into Division Two. If you're in Division Three and you're not able to get out of it, well that's where you deserve to be," the RTE pundit argues.
"In saying that, I think they've a great chance of getting back now, with Antrim and Fermanagh to come and knowing their fate. But it will be difficult – people say it would be easy enough to get out of there, but when you go to play in places like Monaghan and play Cavan and Fermanagh, they're all decent sides, well organised and very difficult to beat."
Colm O'Rourke was speaking at yesterday's Croke Park launch in his capacity as manager of St Patrick's Classic School, Navan, who face Pobalscoil Corcha Dhuibhne of Dingle in the semi-finals of the Masita GAA All-Ireland Colleges SFC 'A' in Nenagh this Saturday (throw-in 1.30).