Donal Keogan’s return from injury is a huge boost as Meath prepare to face Dublin in Sunday’s Leinster SFC semi-final at Croke Park. Photo: David Mullen /

Jones on bench as McEntee sticks with same 15 for Dubs test

Ronan Jones returns from a broken arm to take his place on the bench for tomorrow's Leinster SFC semi-final with Dublin as manager Andy McEntee names an unchanged Meath side from the team that beat Longford in the quarter-final.

Conor McGill and Brian Conlon also return to the matchday squad from suspension as Meath hope to spring a major surprise in Croke Park.

Meath (v Dublin) - Andrew Colgan; Seamus Lavin, Ronan Ryan, Donal Keogan; Cathal Hickey, Shane McEntee, Fionn Reilly; Bryan Menton, Padraic Harnan; Ethan Devine, Bryan McMahon, Mathew Costello; Jordan Morris, Cillian O'Sullivan, Joey Wallace. Subs - Harry Hogan, Conor McGill, Eoin Harkin, James McEntee, Brían Conlon, Ronan Jones, Eamon Wallace, Michael Newman, Thomas O’Reilly, James Conlon, Danny Dixon.


Won't get fooled again.

Don't be fooled by all this talk of unrest in the Dublin camp, that is designed to lull Meath into another sense of false hope ahead of next Sunday's Leinster SFC semi-final in Croke Park.

The facts of the matter remain. Meath will be massive underdogs going into next Sunday's penultimate provincial hurdle and for good reason.

Just eight months ago, Meath took on Dublin in the most unusual of Leinster SFC finals, in front of an empty Croke Park towards the end of November. Speculation then was that it was an 'ideal' time to be facing the potentially under-cooked Dubs.

Look how that turned out!

The then six-in-a-row chasing All-Ireland champions turned on the style and romped to a 21-point win, a defeat that proved to be Meath largest provincial loss ever.

And all that came off the back of promising displays in the preceding weeks when only losing by four points to a near full-strength Dublin side in the league, drawing with Monaghan in Clones and then scoring 12 goals in the Leinster SFC wins over Wicklow and Kildare.

Meath went into that Leinster final bouncing and emerged a busted balloon. Deflated and discarded, the promise of a bright future blown away by the all-powerful Dubs.

Now hope is rising again in the Royal County that Meath can spring a surprise when they face Dublin in front of 18,000 fans at Croke Park next Sunday - but it's the hope that kills you.

So where is this new found sense of optimism for Meath supporters coming from?

Is it the 22-point hammering of Longford in the Leinster SFC quarter-final? Maybe it's Dublin's lacklustre showing when beating lowly Wexford by 'only' eight points? What about the eternal belief that Meath can always raise their game when it comes to facing Dublin?

One thing is for certain, apart from the comfortable win over Longford, the league form won't exactly set Dublin quivering with fear.

The NFL Div 2 semi-final capitulation against Kildare was one of the most unacceptable performances from a Meath team in many years, while the one-point win over Westmeath in round one was hard-fought and on the edge of fortunate rather than impressive.

The seven-point win over Down had its bright moments, but then Down's form since then hasn't exactly set the world alight as they lost to Donegal by 16 points in the Ulster SFC.

The ghost of that loss to Kildare in Newbridge appears to have been laid to rest following a very positive couple of weeks training and a lot of honest, frank discussions between the players and management.

The reaction to that loss has been top class. Andy McEntee couldn't have asked any more from his players against Longford, but he might have wished for a few more questions to be posed by Longford.

That 22-point win over Longford will have served Meath no benefit, other than getting the NFL performance against Kildare out of their system and giving a few returning players some valuable game time.

Next Sunday there will be an avalanche of questions thrown at Meath by Dublin.

They will be keen to answer the critics who slated their performance against Wexford and prove the unity that drove this great side to eight of the last 10 Sam Maguire Cups is still very much there.

There are rumours of unrest in the Dublin camp, but such is the togetherness of that panel and the omerta that exists around them that that is all they are - rumours.

There was considerable disappointment at the breaking of Covid restrictions earlier in the year and now the drama over Stephen Cluxton and his 'break' from football is hanging like a cloud, threatening thunder.

Will that be enough to spark a Dublin implosion? There's always hope.

However, while the performance against Wexford suggests Dublin aren't exactly firing on all cylinders their approach is that they don't need to be just yet - they have more than enough ammunition to shoot down the opposition in Leinster.

Form is temporary and class is permanent. When players like Ciaran Kilkenny, Con O'Callaghan, Brian Fenton, James McCarthy, Cormac Costello, Paddy Small, Dean Rock and Niall Scully see the green and gold of Meath they instantly switch on.

We saw that last November and we will undoubtedly see it again next Sunday.

The question is, will Meath sit back in awe of Dublin, try to absorb pressure and hit them on the counter-attack or will they try to go toe-to-toe?

At this stage, does it really matter? Meath have nothing to lose.

Another heavy loss is what is expected by those outside of the Royal County. Within, there are much higher expectations and while a victory is still seen as some sort of unlikely manna from heaven, the least expected is a decent display.

Meath proved against Longford, and on various other occasions when they needed to cut loose, that a fast-paced, powerful attacking display is the best way forward.

Being cautious and trying to 'stay in touch' with Dublin will just invite pressure. Dublin can extend a one or two-point lead to eight in a couple of blinks of the eye and then it's game over.

Meath need to use their power, pace and exceptional fitness levels to their full potential.

Unfortunately McEntee looks set to be without Ronan Jones, and his drive from midfield will be a huge loss. However, Meath have options going forward and following injury scares for Bryan Menton and Donal Keogan they are back at full tilt and can provide that front foot.

Others like Cillian O'Sullivan, Bryan McMahon and Padraic Harnan are proving to be the real engine room of the team and with Cathal Hickey and Fionn Reilly making real names for themselves as potent attacking wing-backs Meath have threats all over the field.

There hasn't been a reliance on one player to do most of the scoring. Against Longford Meath had 12 different scorers and that was a huge positive.

Players coming off the bench made a huge impact too and maybe keeping Eamon Wallace and James McEntee in reserve again might be the best option.

Nobody is getting too carried away with the win over Longford, we saw how difficult Meath found it against Kildare last year after they had hammered Wicklow.

Meath need to be focused, strong and positive against Dublin. If there are any chinks in the All-Ireland champion's armour it will be exposed sooner rather than later, let's hope it's next Sunday.