McEntee wary ahead of tricky Westmeath opener
Almost six months on from that dreadfully disappointing night in Croke Park when Dublin inflicted one of Meath's heaviest ever championship defeats, Andy McEntee is looking forward to getting back on the pitch and restoring some pride.
There is no denying the fact that Meath did not do themselves justice on that November night last year, but after almost half a year of wallowing in the frustrations of that performance McEntee believes the players are chomping at the bit and ready to go.
The prolonged break since the last competitive game did have its positive side as several players who had been carrying long-term niggles got the rest they needed to help those injuries clear up.
However, McEntee did reveal that his plans have suffered a blow with Ronan Jones suffering a broken arm in a challenge match against Armagh last Saturday.
"Ronan Jones picked up a bad knock last weekend and broke his arm in a challenge against Armagh, so that will be him out of contention for the League," McEntee confirmed to the Meath Chronicle.
"Everybody is delighted to be back training. When you see what else can't go on in society the lads consider themselves lucky to be able to get back playing football.
"It is good to be out there and the players are enjoying it.
"The break was good as it allowed players to get injuries cleared up, but once you get back into it, no more than anybody else, you do end up picking up a few bits and pieces, that's the norm, but the break has given a lot of the lads a chance to rest various injuries."
Mickey Newman is another player who has benefited from the break and although he is still recovering from hip surgery he is expected to be back in contention in the next few weeks.
With plenty of options available to him McEntee has been given a welcome headache with several newcomers to the panel such as Gaeil Colmcille duo Fionn Reilly and Jordan Muldoon as well as Boardsmill's Danny Dixon impressing in training.
However, such is the truncated format of this year's league, will McEntee get a chance or be prepared to throw those rookies into the white hot heat of what will be three cutthroat NFL Div 2 contests against Westmeath, Down and Mayo?
"You can only judge the players we have in by what we see from them in training," said the Meath boss.
"Regardless of how long they are on the panel, if they are showing well enough in training then they will be given the opportunity.
"That's the way we have always operated and I don't see that changing.
"It is a such a short league with such a tight run in into it that it is hard to get a genuine look at anybody.
"We have only had one game against Armagh, we played two teams up there so at least we got some football into the vast majority of the panel."
There is no room for slip ups in this year's league.
The top two in NFL Div 2 North will contest the league semi-finals, while the bottom two will play relegation finals against the bottom two from Div 2 South with the loser of each game dropping to Div 3 for 2022.
So is there extra pressure on the players and management to hit the ground running next Sunday?
"There is always pressure. Everybody wants to be successful and everyone wants to pick up good results," suggested McEntee.
"It is difficult for everyone, players, management and every other team are the same, you don't really know where you are at and you don't really know where other teams are at.
"With the best will in the world, nobody really knows how much work has been done.
"So we are definitely going into the unknown and that can cause uncertainty, which can then cause a little bit of pressure in itself.
"You could spend a lot of time worrying about what other teams have been doing during lockdown, but it is what it is. "Our lads have put in a huge effort and have done a lot of work on their own, it is never the same compared to group training or to games.
"You can spend a lot of time worrying about things that are outside of our control, but the best thing to do is just concentrate on ourselves.
"Everybody likes a little bit of cutthroat football, but do three games constitute a league? - I'm not so sure.
"It is a mini-tournament and there is not much wiggle room, so that in itself adds an extra bit of spice to the league.
"If you lose your first game then you are pretty much under pressure straight away.
"I would always regard Westmeath as a major rival for us," he said.
"I think their record over the last number of years would suggest there is not a whole pile between them and us.
"Meath and Westmeath will always have its own little bit of history and its own extra little bit of spice to it," concluded the Meath manager.
Meath v Westmeath at Pairc Tailteann on Sunday, 3.45pm.