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.
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