Meath matters

Photo: cnn.com

The men’s footballers are back in League action this coming Sunday. It’s Round 3 in Division Two North and we’re up against Meath at MacHale Park. The game throws in at 1.45pm that afternoon, Martin McNally of Monaghan is the ref and it’s being streamed live on GAA GO.

Both ourselves and Meath fell through the relegation trapdoor last autumn – the Royals after a single season in Division One, ourselves after an unbroken generation in the top tier – and with both of us occupying the top two spots in Division Two North we’re in the Division Two semi-finals with a match each to spare. What odds against the pair of us bouncing back up to Division One at the first attempt from here?

Before then, though, we have to bounce off each other on Sunday but before turning to that let’s bounce off instead through what Meath have been up to over the last while.

The obvious starting point for this is our Division One meeting with them last spring. That happened in Round 3 on a wild and windy day in Navan – the same day that the first Covid cases in this country were confirmed – and it was a game that both of us went into under a fair bit of pressure.

We only had a rather fortuitous opening round draw against Donegal to show for our efforts heading to Páirc Tailteann that day in early February. They had lost to Tyrone by five points in the opening round and then had shipped a ten-point beating at the hands of Donegal on home turf the week after that.

Mentally, we had that Meath game as a banker for us but, although we did come away with the two points, in truth it was a contest that could have gone either way. Our defence parted twice like the Red Sea early in the second half – when has that happened before or since? – and those two goals gave the Royals real impetus. In the end it took a few pieces of Kevin McLoughlin magic to bail us out but it was the closest of close wins for us.

Photo: MichaelMaye.com

They ended up collecting just a single point over the course of the seven matches they played in Division One last year. The one they eventually got – in a high-scoring final round draw with Monaghan up in Clones – happened after they’d been relegated.

But that record masks what wasn’t an overly negative season in the League’s top tier for Andy McEntee’s team. Counties who come up to Division One, in particular those who get promoted after an absence of some years, often struggle in the exalted company they find themselves up against week after week.

Meath, however, didn’t look that much out of place in Division One last year. Aside from that Donegal hosing, they ran Kerry to three points in Killarney, lost by two to Galway in Navan and were only four behind Dublin at Parnell Park. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that they’re eyeing a rapid bounce-back to the top tier now.

Their run in Leinster last winter was, though, odd. Then again the whole bloody Championship was odd, aside, of course, from that dreary Dublin success.

Meath put 7-14 past Wicklow in the quarters and then followed that up with a 5-9 tally against Kildare. So, coming into the provincial decider having won their previous two matches by margins of 28 and 9 points respectively, they might have felt they had a decent chance of giving the Dubs a decent rattle. The 3-21 to 0-9 reversal they endured in that final tells how those hopes crashed and burned.

So, to this year and those two opening round matches in this year’s League.

There was much to like about how Meath pulled the proverbial fat from the fire in the opening round against Westmeath. It wasn’t a high quality match and the Royals looked to be heading for defeat at Navan as they trailed by four points with ten minutes or so to go. They rallied well, however, scoring seven of the game’s final nine points – five of them coming from their influential bench – to nick the result by a single point.

While this performance wasn’t up there with the storied Meath cussedness of old, it did show that this is a team that has a hunger to win. No more than ourselves in last weekend’s game, it was a hunger that was eventually fed by idiotic Westmeath fouling within range of the posts but those winning scores for Meath didn’t kick themselves and it was a win they did well to dig out.

Last weekend they had seven points to spare over Down, in a match they never looked likely to lose. Like us they’ve now scored two goals in this campaign but they’ve yet to let one in, whereas our net has rattled three times in the two games we’ve played.

It’s hard to know how either James Horan or Andy McEntee will approach Sunday’s meeting at MacHale Park. Winning’s a habit and, in such a compact season, momentum is important so it could be argued that both will want to keep this positive run going.

You could also argue that, in Meath’s case, they know full well what’s up ahead in Leinster. Their ambition for this year could, then, be to win all their League games and bank that rapid return to Division One before having to face certain immolation by the permanent Leinster champions should they be unfortunate enough to end up in the provincial decider.

So I think there’s a reasonable case to be made that we’ll be facing a fairly settled Meath team on Sunday, one that will feel that victory matters and that will be determined to land their county’s first win over us in Castlebar since way back in 1962. Will we shake things up and fling on a whole load of lads who haven’t featured so far this year? Your guess is as good as mine, I’m afraid.

What I can say is that over the entire history of the GAA we’ve met a total of 44 times and they have a slight edge on us. We’ve won 19 of those clashes, lost 22 of them and drawn the other three. We’ve scored a grand total of 60-362 but conceded 62-383.

Will we narrow that gap a little the next day? Or will they add to the slight historical advantage they enjoy over us? I think this is one we’ll need to be firing properly in if we’re to do it but what do the rest of you think about that?

How will we do against Meath?

  • Win (72%, 439 Votes)
  • Lose (16%, 98 Votes)
  • Draw (12%, 75 Votes)

Total Voters: 612

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34 thoughts on “Meath matters

  1. Meath likely to be our toughest opposition yet. Definitely a good test for fringe players. Byrne on panel on basis of outstanding games for the Mitchels. He needs to be blooded for the county asap in my opinion.

  2. I don’t believe last weekends level of performance will be enough next weekend to beat Meath.

    While Paddy Durcan is playing out of his skin, and great to see it, there is something fundamentally wrong when we have to rely on scores from defenders to keep us in, and win matches for us. Its not a recent development either. We’ve been doing it for years.

    Our forwards showed sparks of brilliance last year at times, but cohesive play between the front six needs to be developed. We should be a threat every time we go up the pitch. Too many times there is no one open and the play breaks down.

    I’m not saying that its not great to have defenders that can bomb forward and score. It is, however, against the very top teams we won’t be able to have our backs darting up the field and leaving wide open spaces at the back. We’ll get burned by doing that.

    Alot of people are worrying about our full back line and maybe rightly so, but there is huge room for improvement further up the pitch. We have some brilliant forwards but I just don’t feel that they combine too well most of the time. Some of our forwards are expected to finish the move once they receive the ball. We know that and the opposition know it as well. Ball transfer between forwards shouldn’t be just a one or two pass combination, it should be continuous and take as many passes and hand offs as is needed until the right scoring opportunity opens up.

    If we don’t get the forward play sorted out we will always be robbing from our defense to try and make up for the short falls.

  3. We don’t rely on defenders getting scores anymore than other teams. Attacking half backs are part of the game now. Paul Murphy scored 2 points in the second half and was a big part of Kerry’s comeback at the weekend, Jack McCaffrey got 1-3 in an all Ireland final before, Ryan McHugh for Donegal, Peter harte Tyrone etc.

  4. One fair observation to make about Horan is his apparent bias towards young players from clubs he’s familiar with i.e. Ballintubber and Westport. There is a dis-proportionate number of young players being tried from these clubs. Is it really the case that there’s no emerging from other clubs?

    An example would be the Knockmore keeper Reape who highly regarded- not in the panel.

  5. I wouldn’t agree with that Wide Ball. I think we are far more dependant on scores from our backs than Dublin for example. Our return on the scoreboard in many games from play from our forwards is in the low single digits. Sometimes with only one or two of our forwards getting on the scoreboard. This has heaped pressure on the other lines in our team getting up the field to kick scores.

    Paul Murphy is a fine player and may have got a couple of points but Kerry shipped 4 goals, so maybe roaming backs might not be helping their cause either.

    The likes of Jack McCaffrey will always bag scores with that kind of ability especially against teams who are not set up well defensively.

    My point is I don’t think you can be too well set up defensively if the half back line are bombing forward. The best teams will punish that.

    Our shape is lost when our backs head up the field. We often see our forwards back tackling on our own 40 yard line. Aidan, Tommy Conroy, Fionn Mcdonagh, Cillian all, at times, back in our back line trying to help out because our back lines aren’t in place. It’s a great work rate and commitment but their job is at the other end.

    You won’t see Dean Rock or Con O’Callaghan too far from where they are supposed to be. You can be sure that there was plenty of cover when Jack McCaffrey took off up the field.

    Back to my starting point. Look at our scoring return in some of our big matches from our forwards from play. It’s not great. Our backs did have to bail us out, and they pay a price for that. Out of position on turn overs and shagged out with 15 minutes to go.

  6. For me we simply have to stop leaking goals we give away 2 in most games you just can’t win much doing that.

  7. New podcast episode will be online this evening. Mike Finnerty is in the chair for it, Billy Joe shifts across to the analysis side, special guest Colm Keys gives us the lowdown on Meath and more. Marty Clarke pops his head round the corner too. Plus there’s a great chat about squad announcements (or the lack of them).

  8. I don’t agree that when defenders come forward and kick a point or 2 they’re bailing us out. It’s just part of the game now. Since you mention
    Dublin James McCarthy scored 2 points to win one of the finals against us, Eoin Murchan got the goal against Kerry. Most of our forwards have scored heavily from play in big games over the years. If you’re just talking about Dublin games where we generally lose, the 2 or 3 goals being conceded is the biggest issue.

  9. I’m like a broke record on this, but the defending for the first goal on Saturday was criminal. Ball comes back off the post, and no defender in sight. Have we learned nothing from the All Ireland?

  10. @Wideball. Most of our forwards have scored heavily in big games over the years ???
    Are you winding me up ?

    How come when we play Dublin our playing system has to be changed.
    Our defenders are given specific man marking duties.
    That points to me that the way we play for the rest of the year isn’t fit for purpose.
    Chris had to shadow Rock.
    Lee has had to stick to Kilkenny and Connolly on occasions.
    All our backs given specific marshalling jobs which they haven’t really had to do up to the semi finals or final.

    We play one brand of football all year and then our whole system has to change for the big one.

    It’s like asking the abbey theatre performance group to rehearse “fiddler on the roof” for six months and on performance night go out and perform the “Pirates of Penzance”.

    It’s kind of madness.

    Dublin are going for their 7th in a row. You won’t find Dublin changing their style of play drastically during the year. The last time their forwards did not perform was against Donegal 8 years ago.

    I actually believe we have very talented forwards now. I just think we need to keep reprocessing the ball until the high percentage shot opens up.

    Our backs very often end up covering up the cracks of what’s happening up front.

  11. Good point there from Spotlight on Horan’s preference for players from his former clubs. 6 stated last weekend and for me at least 2 are head scratchers, I can’t see what he sees.
    Also can’t see what he’s trying to achieve in the half forward line. We don’t score enough from that line, hence the overlap with the half backs. Play half forwards that can score freely from distance. We play guys in the half forward that won’t frighten any defender.

  12. Why would I be winding you up revellino? How could we get to the later stages of the championship on so many occasions without forwards playing well and scoring heavily? Look up what Cillian and Tommy scored last year and Andy Moran previously. Kevin McLoughlin and Jason Doherty regularly chipped in with a couple of scores and Diarmuid has a great goal scoring record. Even Darren Coen and James Carr have put up big scores in championship games occasionally.

    Don’t really understand the rest of your comment. Chris Barrett is a corner back, why wouldn’t he mark Dean rock? Also Keegan is given a marking job in pretty much every game he plays, nothing different to when we play Dublin.

  13. Revillino take a bow. Currently rehearsing for the bull mccabe in the field but will be playing the lead in playboy of the Western world when we open, obviously.

  14. Hi, Just a bit of trivia. Paddy Power must reckon a victory over Meath Matters to Mayo. Mayo are priced at 2/7 and Meath 7/2.

    Clare are 11/4 to beat Cork.

    Cillian could have a rest for first half and play Aidan as he is training again and will need hlm for Semi. Could do similar with goalkeeper Maybe the Ballaghdereen full back and 1 or 2 newbies. .
    This should keep us all happy.

  15. This famous word balance comes to mind. Durcan was curtailed against down but as westmeath parked the bus he had freedom to roam. I dont think it was our game plan that didn’t work rather westmeaths. In game management is big thing now. But for me the reality is still the team that scores the most will win. On the big days u need a forward line capable of scoring. We are building toward that.

  16. Pirates of Penzance, its a kind of Magic, fiddler on the roof! i always knew their was a musical in Mayo football but it wont happen until we are the champions our defence always seem to be under pressure we still haven’t found what we are looking for in Croke park

  17. That’s an interesting comparison Revellino, I think you’re right all the same

  18. Semi final may not be at a neutral venue. For example if Meath play Clare the game is in Navan as Clare had 2 home games and Meath one.

  19. I have to agree with Wide ball to an extent at least. Remember we came within a whiskdr of winning an all ireland. There has to be flexibilty in football lines unlike the traditional game. But As Revelinno says not at the expense of forwards not cracking up the bulk of the scores.
    To allow for this flexibility wherby a full back ends up in scoring position, Forwards have to be able to defend and have an understanding with backs going forward. Maybe thats whats missing in our game at the moment.
    Conceding 2 goals(and very genuine penalty claim, for Boyler tackle) against Westmeath is a long way of the mark.
    As wj says, the meath game does matter

  20. @ WJ. Bring on the podcast.. Great promo piece for it. Looking forward to it

  21. The notion that Horan shows favouritism to players from his former clubs is ludicrous.

    Ballintubber – 4 players
    Cillian and Diarmuid, I would assume most people would say, warrant their place.

    Michael Plunkett was an exceptional underage player, excellent club player, who’s path to the Mayo 15 has been obstructed by some of the best halfbacks we have ever produced (Boyle, Keegan, Vaughan, Durcan).

    Bryan Walsh is in his second year and won us the Connacht Final last year with 2 points off the bench.

    On the Westport side – Keegan is well established.

    McDonagh has shown his quality, and has been unlucky with injuries.

    McLaughlin came out of nowhere and was an All Star nominee in his debut season.

    Mark Moran played 1 proper game and showed promise with a MOTM performance.

    Doyle has played 1 game for Mayo. Colm Moran has played 1 game for Mayo. Are we to say James has given them too much of an opportunity after 1 game each?

    Its scary how negative some of our ‘fans’ are when they want young players to fail because of where they are from.

  22. Some people are predestined to moan about this and that. It’s what they are about. The idea that there are too many players from this club or that club is nonsense of course. If the team was picked on a proportional representation basis that would also be nonsensical . At the end of the day we are one game away from promotion. That is too much for some people to handle. Fact is we are flying and there is very little to complain about in the real world. In this e environment everything real and imagined is fair game for a good old moan.

  23. Meath forwards are quick and accurate if a bit light. They try to play off the shoulder like Mayo of old. They will be a real test for our back line. I think McEntee is on about his twelfth goalie.

  24. Spotlight,I think your comment re favoritism by James Horan,is off the mark.As others have alluded to,I don’t see a lot of evidence to back this up.Aside from the suggestion itself,I think its a gross insult to James, to believe that he would engage in nonsense such as this,ahead of the greater good of Mayo football.

  25. I have to agree with Revellino Mayo do overthink when facing the Dubs, basically the shape is changed when facing the Dubs in a final, this happens in all finals.
    Maybe this overthinking and matchups is holding guys back a bit, trying to hold the opposition rather than going for broke.
    What I hate is the lack of bodies in the opposition half when Mayo attack, very simple tactic, the ball goes from A – B – C – D.

  26. Anyone who is frustrated about the lack of information on the playing panel will be interested to hear what the lads have to say about this on the latest episode of the podcast.

  27. Does anyone else think the team we currently have are all very similar? In that they are all speedy and athletic. Do we need a horse of a man in midfield or a brick at full back? Talking of the full back line we really do not have any specialist full backs do we? In essence our full defense could all be half backs….running half backs?

  28. Talking about club favoritism all i can say is is is a lot better than the old days when selectors were from North South east and West and places on the team depended on your area rep being at the meeting and each area rep saw his job as getting his players on the team.

  29. Re favouritism, I would say that James certainly has his favourites. They are those who deliver when asked and leave nothing behind them on the field. Why would they not be his favourites? After all, he has more skin in the game than anybody.

  30. Will team be named this evening or will it be tomorrow? Hope Horan gives the newbies a go on Sunday. Would love to see Mcbrien brought into full back and try Oisín at midfield, also start Carr at full forward.

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