Emma Duggan will be a key player for Meath in Sunday’s Ladies All-Ireland IFC opener against Down in Dunleer.

Meath should be too strong for Down challenge

PREVIEW

The assumptions are that because Meath have contested the last two Ladies All-Ireland IFC finals they are automatic favourites to lift the title at the third time of asking, but we all know what assumptions can make!

Undoubtedly Meath are a senior team in the making, but while that opinion is widely held, for it to become a fact Eamonn Murray's side have to get the job done in Croke Park on Sunday 20th December and to get there they have to overcome a tough journey - starting with a trip to Dunleer Co Louth next Sunday to take on Down, 1pm.

The form book suggests that high flying Div 2 side Meath should have too much power and class for a Down team that occupied second place in Div 3 when Covid forced the cancellation of the leagues.

Both counties looked in good form to secure promotion with Down winning four and drawing one of their five games before lockdown to lie in second place behind unbeaten Kildare, while Meath had three wins and draw from their five games to sit ahead of established senior sides Cavan, Monaghan, Tyrone and Armagh in second spot behind unbeaten Kerry.

2020 promised so much for both sides, but with the leagues declared null and void all eggs must now be placed in the championship basket and Meath and Down will fancy their chances of earning a place in the All-Ireland semi-finals.

With only one team emerging from each of the four groups in the IFC to contest the semi-finals, Sunday's clash with Down will effectively determine who will advance as Div 4 side Leitrim, the third team in the group, are not expected to shock either Meath or Down.

So what can Meath expect when they face Down next Sunday? The answer is simple, a Titanic tussle that will severely test their championship credentials.

Down are no mugs and they were the only side to beat Meath in their march to the NFL Div 3 title in 2019 - albeit an experimental Meath side that had already qualified for the final against Sligo.

Meath also played Down in the 2018 league and the Royals coasted to a 4-13 to 2-2 win, but the Ulster side have improved significantly since then and their league results from earlier this year proves that they have made huge progress.

A 3-13 to 0-7 win over one of Meath's bogey teams in recent years, Roscommon, suggests that Down will be a tough nut to crack.

Their only slip up in Div 3 came when they were held to a 0-11 each draw by Wicklow and on that form Meath will fancy their chances as when they last faced Wicklow in 2019 they coasted to a 4-19 to 0-10 win.

However, Down were below par and more significance should be read into their wins over Longford, Fermanagh, Sligo and Roscommon which saw them register a +38 scoring difference from those four wins - impressive stuff.

If that form was considered good, then Meath's performances in Div 2 were phenomenal.

Promoted from Div 3 in 2019, Meath took Div 2 by storm where they secured wins over senior sides Monaghan, Tyrone and Armagh, while also earning a disappointing draw when they let a big lead slip away to Clare.

Meath's only loss came in a bruising encounter away to Cavan and they have learned a lot from that experience and also from the disappointment of losing consecutive All-Ireland finals to Tyrone and Tipperary in 2018 and '19.

Meath are undoubtedly the class side, but they need to guard against complacency when facing Down.

The experience of the last two campaigns will be invaluable and with players like Emma Duggan, Vikki Wall and Stacey Grimes capable of turning a game on its head in an instant they should be too hot for Down to handle.

Kelsey Nesbitt looks set to miss out due to injury, but otherwise Murray will have a full deck to call on and he will hope the defensive unit led by Emma Troy, Mary Kate Lynch, Monica McGuirk, Shauna Ennis, Katie Newe and Megan Thynne and a powerful midfield of Maire O'Shaughnessy and Aoibhin Cleary will be able to supply enough ammunition for some of the most dangerous forwards in the game to fire them to victory.

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