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Saturday 21 September 2019

Menton glad to see the back of 'tough few years' for Royals

Meath’s Bryan Menton
Meath’s Bryan Menton

It's just 16 months since Paddy O'Rourke publicly outlined his reasons for opting off the Meath panel at the end of the 2017 season.

"If we're honest in Meath, we're not getting any closer to where we want to go," he wrote in a blog that went down like a lead balloon in his home county.

"Winning Leinster again or challenging for an All-Ireland doesn't look realistic any time soon, and in fact it feels like it farther away than ever."

For all their pessimism, O'Rourke's sentiments were met locally with resignation rather than anger.

At that moment, it seemed as though Meath would be mired in Division 2 forever.

Their defeat in Leinster to Kildare was too comprehensive to even fathom how far Meath needed to travel before declaring themselves equipped to take on Dublin.

But it was O'Rourke's gloomy commentary on the life of an inter-county footballer in a county struggling to reconcile their present levels and their past glories that attracted the most attention.

"I finally came to a decision: this is not worth it," he explained. "Because when you think of the consequences of the incredible commitment levels required, you're losing so much of your life.

"Never mind the amount of evenings you're spending training and at the gym.

Realistic

"It means you end up isolated from your family, your friends and your club. And for what?

"How can you justify training five or six nights per week for eight or nine months of the year, without a realistic chance of winning anything? I just can't do it any more."

As they approach their first Leinster final in five years, Meath are already basking in the knowledge that regardless of how this summer transpires, they will awake in 2020 in Division 1 of the League.

That surely, makes it enjoyable again?

"I think winning breeds that enjoyment," says co-captain Bryan Menton.

"The work you're putting into it. When you actually achieve that goal, that's when you really start to enjoy it. When you're working really hard and not getting anything out of it, it can be tough."

So tough that Menton took a year out in 2016, having completed five fruitless years as a Meath senior. "It wasn't necessarily because of how I saw Meath progressing," he explains.

Personal

"It was personal. I was there from 2010, I left school and was caught up in the whole bubble that was inter-county football.

"I just wanted to experience life outside of that."

He was coaxed back by Andy McEntee upon his arrival as manager at the end of 2016.

This year, Menton has been co-captain along with Donal Keogan and Meath are preparing for their first Leinster final in five years, just three months on from promotion to Division 1.

It almost goes without saying then this year has been his most enjoyable as an inter-county footballer.

"It definitely has," he agrees.

"Winning will always breed that kind of positivity in the camp. When you lose a game there is obviously a dark cloud over you for a few days after.

"That can get within the panel. This year we've had a few really good wins.

"Training has been really positive. The language within the panel has been very positive.

Nominally a defender, Menton has been converted into a midfielder by McEntee and with noted success.

Prime

Against Laois in the Leinster semi-final Meath won so surprisingly comfortably, he got forward to score two goals, both impressively taken.

"I have the experience under my belt, timing the runs, the skill level may have improved slightly," he explains.

"But also consistently playing in one position.

"I've tried to become a midfielder and a midfielder only.

"That's allowed me to know what fitness level I need to get to. The certain skill level I need to get to.

"If I'm not in my prime at just gone 28 years of age," Menton adds, "it might be that bit too late for me.

"To be honest the first two or three years I was in with Meath I just probably settled for playing anywhere and playing a defensive role.

"So, to be told you are going to be our midfielder and that's where we want to see you playing, we want to see you progress there.

"I was happy to just go after that and try and nail that down.

"It has been a tough era," says Menton more generally of the period of time O'Rourke described so unflatteringly.

"We're delighted to be back there now and ready to rock. It's where we want to be. There has been a few tough years. It's great to be back there competing again."

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