Meath manager Andy McEntee surveys the action during Sunday’s Leinster SFC semi-final victory over Kildare at Croke Park. Photo: David Mullen / www.quirke.ie

McEntee puzzled by frustrating first-half performance against Kildare

It's all change after matches these days.

Normally in Croke Park the post-match interviews are conducted in the luxury of the media room under the stand, but in these Covid times there is no such thing as normal, so it was on the steps of section 310 of the Cusack Stand that Meath manager Andy McEntee faced the masked media to explain his side's come-from-behind victory over Kildare.

Gripping a bottle of juice that would have done little to warm him as the wind blew up from the tunnel behind and with the rain starting to gently fall McEntee cast an eye over the heads of the press as Dublin and Laois emerged for their semi-final.

Whether he was hoping to catch something special in the warm-up or gather his thoughts after a topsy-turvy semi-final win over Kildare was unclear, but what was obvious was his relief that his side had managed to dig deep and overturn a six-point half-time deficit that looked set to unceremoniously dump Meath out of the championship.

So what exactly did he say to his troops at the break that prompted such a stirring second-half?

“Oh yeah, I'm going to take all the credit for this,” joked the manager.

“I'm afraid it had very little to do with me really.

"Lads were very much aware that we hadn't performed, but at least we had another 35 minutes or more to put that right.

“There's never any guarantee, but I suppose the two goals early in the second-half made a huge difference and lifted spirits in general.

“I don't know why we were so poor in the opening half to be perfectly honest.

"You prepare as best you can and the truth of the matter is that Kildare were sharper, they were stronger, they were more physical, tactically they were well set up, we weren't doing the things that we had planned to.

“Everyone has a plan until they get a punch on the nose so we had to figure it out a little bit on the pitch ourselves,” he added.

While Meath were poor and failed to scale the heights they reached in many of their NFL Div 1 games against so-called 'better opposition' than they faced on Sunday, McEntee also gave credit to Kildare for the pressure they brought to the game, but he was delighted to see his side swallow up their goal chances again.

“Kildare were quite successful from the kick-outs in the first-half, it made life difficult for us," said McEntee.

"It's kind of hard to know what way that wind was blowing, I thought we had it in the first-half, but I'm standing here now and it feels like it's blowing the other way.

“One way or the other, we struggled to get our kick-outs away and that certainly helped them to put a decent platform in place.

“The last five minutes of the first-half went from a two-point lead for them to all of a sudden up to a six-point lead and they had momentum at that stage.

"They had a goal chance within that period as well where they hit the crossbar, so it could have been more. Maybe we were lucky to get in for half-time when we did.

“We had been creating goal chances throughout the League, but we weren't taking them.

"From a head space point of view, Kildare had dominated the game, had out-played us in pretty much every area of the field and all of a sudden the game was level.

"That itself can be harsh, a little bit like the hurling last night I suppose, but that's the way it goes.”

With so many things going wrong in the opening half it was unusual that McEntee didn't make a change at half-time.

With such a strong bench he certainly had options, but he decided to stick with his starting 15 and he put faith in them to turn it around.

“Where would you start?! That's the thing, there were a lot of guys who weren't doing themselves justice out there, it would have been hard to pick one or two out of that,” suggested the manager when considering changes at half-time.

“The truth of the matter is we have great faith in the lads, they haven't let us down from a spirit side of things and from a guts side of things all year, or for a number of years now, so you have to back them.

"Thankfully the vast majority of them turned the game around for themselves and for the team.

“There's a bit of pace there off the bench and you have guys injecting pace and you can see it probably got us going again.

"The lads had put in a fair shift, the likes of Shane Walsh put in a fair shift out there, you're bringing guys in who have a bit of gas in their boots and that pitch is a fast surface.

“Kildare at that stage had to push forward and they were leaving gaps at the back and that was probably the way it panned out.”

Scoring 12 goals in two championship games suggests McEntee and his coaching team are working hard on that aspect of their play, but the manager also believes that operating out of Div 1 in the League put them in a strong position.

“I wouldn't say we are working on goal-scoring in training any more than anybody else. It just happened to work out that way as much as anything else,” he said.

“We got a couple of breaks, we got a couple of turnovers at vital stages. I think two of the goals came from turnovers, close to goals. That takes hard work.

“Everybody wants to be playing in Div 1. Unfortunately we won't be a Div 1 side next year, but it does teach you that unless you take your chances in general you're going to get punished.

"I suppose in the last two games we have managed to take our chances.”

One thing Sunday's performance will ensure is that none of the Meath players will be getting carried away with scoring five goals.

A repeat display against Dublin in next Saturday night's Leinster SFC final and Meath will be in big trouble.

When asked if Meath are in a better place this year to take on Dublin, McEntee insisted that he honestly won't know until next week.

“I think that's up for other people to decide to be perfectly honest, ask me after the game next week I suppose and I'll tell you,” he said.

“I'm not being smart, it's hard to know, no one has managed to beat them in six years so that's the aim, but nobody has achieved it.

“We saw enough in the first-half today, if we wanted any grounding it was there in the first-half, that's the truth.

"We didn't perform well, we didn't show the hunger, we didn't show the appetite, we're not good enough to be able to do that.

“The hunger is always there, it's always been there. So long as I've been in charge it's always been there.

"We haven't always delivered on it, but I wouldn't accuse these guys of not having the right attitude or the hunger, not for one minute,” concluded the manager before turning his attention to watching Dublin ease into their 10th successive Leinster SFC final with victory over Laois.

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