Cillian O’Sullivan has been in fine form for Meath this year. Photo: David Mullen / www.quirke.ie

All on the line ahead of Newbridge test

NFL PREVIEW

It all boils down to one match, one opportunity to bounce back from the disappointment of last year's relegation, a chance to prove to the rest of the country that they belong at the top table, Meath must beat Kildare in Newbridge next Sunday to claim promotion from NFL Div 2.

In these strangest of strange times, the GAA have stumbled upon a format for the league that ensured a cutthroat campaign with little or no room for error and Meath have taken advantage.

With wins over Westmeath and Down in Div 2 North Meath booked their place in the the NFL Div 2 semi-finals, but now because Mayo and Clare qualified for the other semi-final and are involved in their respective championships on the proposed weekend for league finals there will be no finals, the winners of the semi-finals will be promoted and declared joint Div 2 champions.

For Meath the target has always been a swift return to Div 1.

After enduring a tough start to their first top flight campaign in 16 years Meath were already relegated before Covid shutdown last year's league, but they proved in most of those games that they were more than capable of mixing it with the 'big boys'.

With aspirations of playing at a higher level Meath are just one game away from reaching their goal, but if recent history has taught us anything, Kildare will not be an easy ride.

As recently as last November Meath and Kildare met in the Leinster SFC semi-final in Croke Park.

Off the back of their seven-goal drubbing of Wicklow, Meath were sluggish as Kildare punished them by racing into a 0-10 to 0-4 interval lead.

That six-point could, and probably would have been an unassailable nine-point advantage had Kevin Flynn not hit the crossbar when one-on-one with Mark Brennan before the break.

Meath survived that let-off and went on another goalscoring blitz in the second-half as Matt Costello, Jordan Morris, Cillian O'Sullivan, Joey Wallace and Jason Scully all found the net to stun Kildare, 5-9 to 0-15.

In 2019 Meath edged closer to promotion from Div 2 with a 1-9 to 1-8 victory over Kildare in dreadful conditions in Navan, but on that occasion a Meath win looked unlikely until Barry Dardis excellently despatched a brilliant penalty to spark euphoria in Pairc Tailteann.

The last league meeting before that Kildare won by 10 points in Navan and also that year the Lilywhites beat Meath in the Leinster SFC semi-final by 2-16 to 0-13.

Only a fool would predict a comfortable win for Meath on Sunday.

while Meath have undoubtedly improved since those two humblings in 2017 and the narrow win in 2019, they only need to look to last year's Leinster semi-final to be aware of Kildare's threats.

Many of the doubts that surround Kildare's chances against Meath stem from the concession of those five goals last November and also from their uninspiring Div 2 South campaign that saw them qualify for this promotion play-off by the skin of their teeth.

However a two-point win over Cork in their first league outing and a 13-point drubbing of Laois in their final game indicate that they are still a very decent side.

Their loss to Clare was only by one score, 0-13 to 1-13 and Clare have been motoring well this year, so Kildare are actually in decent form themselves.

Meath won't carry any scars from their defeat away to Mayo and are likely to revert to a more recognised starting 15. the return of Michael Newman to the fold is a welcome boost and the pace of Jack O'Connor (not the Kildare manager!) is sure to give Andy McEntee food for thought.

It promises to be another tight encounter and if Meath are to achieve their goals then its a game they must come out on the right side of.

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