It’s a blessing and a curse that the games are coming along so rapidly at us in this year’s Championship. This week-to-week-to-week schedule has meant that we’d no time at all to luxuriate in having bested Galway for the first time since 2016 but now it means equally we’ve no period in which we’re condemned to brood on Sunday’s hosing by Kerry, our worst defeat in the Championship since 2007.
There’s simply no time for looking back right now, it’s the road ahead and the test we’re racing towards rapidly where our focus needs to be fixed. This week that test comes in the shape of Meath so let’s run a quick check over them.
Mayo/Meath? 1996, of course, is the first clash that comes to mind for most people. There’s scar tissue there for us, of course, there always will be, but we’ve suffered other, arguably deeper, wounds since then so the heady events of those two final matches 23 years ago no longer carry the same potency as they once did.
If it’s history you want to talk about, then consider this: we haven’t beaten Meath in the Championship since 1951. That 2-8 to 0-9 win gained us our third and still most recent All-Ireland success but since then we’ve lost to them in 1967, 1988, 1996 (after a replay) and 2009.
For sure we should have beaten them in the 1996 final – both bloody days – but the 2009 loss was nearly as galling, albeit in a game of far lower profile. We went into that match as Connacht champions and were strong favourites to prevail but we collapsed in a heap in the last quarter and allowed a very mediocre Meath side to scalp us by three points.
Indeed, those of a nervous disposition might point to parallels between the chatter in advance of those games then and now. The blog existed back then too, but, of course, it only attracted a fraction of the traffic it does now, with the discussion also limited to a far smaller pool of contributors. The vast majority, as I recall, were very confident of victory in advance – as I was too – and so the defeat proved to be a rude shock for all of us.
Which is as good a cue as any to switch to the present day Meath side and what they’ve been up to of late in League and Championship.
Not a lot, you could say – such a summary wouldn’t be too wide of the mark there. They’ve more or less given up completely trying to compete in Leinster and their Championship runs generally have tended to be on the short side in recent years. This year, though, has seen their fortunes begin to rise for the first time in a long while.
In retrospect, maybe this trend began last summer. Their Leinster campaign ended after just one game, which they lost to Longford by two points at the quarter-final stage. They then had the bad fortune to be drawn against Tyrone in Round 1 of the qualifiers.
They lost that one too and so exited the Championship in early June. But they did so with their heads held high, as they took Tyrone to extra-time in Navan and were desperately unlucky not to dump the Red Hands out that day. The 2-14 to 0-19 AET loss they suffered then didn’t look too shabby the day their conquerors made it all the way to the All-Ireland final last summer.
Meath haven’t been in Division One of the League in yonks but this spring they finally put that to rights. It proved to be a really good spring campaign for them, one in which they caught the winning bug, coming out on top in six of the regulation seven games.
The only team they lost to in Division Two this year was Donegal. They went under by two points in Round 2 up in Ballybofey and they lost out by two points to them again, this time in Croke Park, in the divisional decider. Last Sunday, Donegal beat them a third time this year, on this occasion by a decisive nine points in their Phase 1 Super 8s meeting at Ballybofey.
Aside from their meetings with Donegal, Meath’s League run saw them record wins over Tipperary in Round 1, Armagh in Round 3, Cork in Round 4, Kildare in Round 5, Clare in Round 6 and Fermanagh in Round 7. All in all, that was very solid campaign for them, one that deservedly saw them promoted to Division One for next year.
They continued on their winning ways in the Leinster Championship too. Offaly, though, gave them a tough enough examination in the preliminary round, Meath only scraping through that one by 1-13 to 0-14. Carlow were, however, swatted away by 2-18 to 0-9 in the quarters and Laois were beaten by 3-13 to 0-11 in the semi-final.
But then Dublin completely eviscerated them in the final. All they managed to score against the four-in-a-row All-Ireland champions was a truly miserable four points, with Dublin racking up 1-17 as they strolled in second gear to an utterly facile Leinster title win.
Andy McEntee’s charges would surely have been on the floor after that pounding. Then, however, Lady Luck intervened. Last year they may have been in hard luck with the qualifier draw but this time, when they might have pulled Tyrone again or, indeed, ourselves, they got paired instead in Round 4 with Clare to contest a place in the Super 8s.
It was a game that Meath won, beating a spirited Clare side in that Round 4 qualifier at O’Moore Park by just a single point, with that 2-16 to 1-18 win sending the Royals onward to the All-Ireland quarter-finals group stage, housed in Group 1 of the Super 8s along with Kerry, Donegal and ourselves.
On the same afternoon that we were getting pasted down in Killarney, Meath went under last Sunday to Donegal by 2-19 to 1-13. That scoreline does the Royals some injustice, however, as they put it up to Donegal for long stretches and only tailed away close to the end.
And so our paths are set to cross at HQ on Sunday, ten years on from when we last met them in a competitive fixture. We’re both coming off Phase 1 losses and we both know that only a win will be good enough to keep our respective Championship hopes alive for this year. Something’s got to give and so, group match or no group match, this one is effectively a knockout tie.
It’s one in which the bookies fancy us to do the business – we’re 4/9 with Paddy Powers to win – but, of course, our defeat last Sunday means that victory for us the next day isn’t enough in its own right to keep our hopes properly alive going into Phase 3. Should Donegal beat Kerry, then, to all intents and purposes, we’re gone, regardless of how we do against Meath.
But, lookit, we can only mind our own house and see where the chips fall elsewhere. So let’s end, as usual, with a poll to test the temperature – what’s it to be when we square up to Meath on Sunday?
How will we fare against Meath?
- Win (74%, 694 Votes)
- Lose (22%, 204 Votes)
- Draw (4%, 38 Votes)
Total Voters: 936