Paul Nestor (centre) with Andy McEntee and Colm Nally. Photo: John Quirke /

Nestor hoping to help end Meath’s drought

Everyone remembers the Meath team that won the All-Ireland MFC in 1992 and the assumption is always that that victory was the platform for Sean Boylan's remarkable rebirth in 1996 that led to Sam Maguire success.

And while Trevor Giles was undoubtedly a once in a generation talent, he was the only one off that '92 minor team that played a significant role in Meath's sixth All-Ireland SFC win.

The young guns that led Meath's revival came from the 1993 minor side that lost out to Cork in the All-Ireland final. The pain of that defeat drove on Paddy Reynolds, Darren Fay, Giles, Ollie Murphy and Barry Callaghan to play crucial roles in Meath's senior success three years later.

Murphy and Callaghan were two-thirds of Meath's electric full-forward line and the final piece in that jigsaw is still to the fore of striving to recapture those glory days for Meath football.

Paul Nestor wore the number 15 jersey in that All-Ireland minor final in '93, but had to retire hurt after just 35 minutes.

Much to his disappointment he only had a limited time with the senior team, but he never lost his love for the game, quickly going into coaching. He also continued to play until he finally hung up the boots after a year or so with St Paul's at the age of 41.

In late December 2020 Nestor's phone rang and he gladly answered, ready for another marathon chat with Meath manager Andy McEntee about all things football - but this time the call was different.

"I was coming to the end of my involvement with the 2020 minors and I had said to my wife (Emily) that I would take a step back from coaching for a year or so and get around to watch different sports and educate myself coaching wise," Nestor told the Meath Chronicle.

"Emily was delighted, expecting to have me around the house a bit more to shoulder a bit more of the responsibility at home, but then a week later Andy (McEntee) rang me to see if I would come on board with the seniors.

"It wouldn't be unusual for Andy to ring me because we would often have chatted about different things with the minors and who was going well at underage, that sort of thing.

"So when I saw his name on my phone I wasn't expecting him to ask me to come in with the seniors, obviously I was delighted to be asked, it is a real honour.

"Then my mind went to 'oh no, I have to go back and discuss this with Emily', after giving her my word I was going to take a break I was now going back to say I was asked to go in with the seniors.

"In fairness to Emily, the minute I asked her she was 100% behind me and told me I had to go for it because she knew it was my dream. She knows the only reason I do the coaching is for the betterment of Meath, so she said to take it because I might never be asked again.

"As soon as she said yes I got straight back onto Andy, just in case he was after ringing 10 people to ask them and he was waiting for the first one to ring back.

"I've known Andy for many years. I tried to mark him many years ago and he gave me plenty of toastings and clippings down through the years, but I got to know him more from being around Dunganny with the minors and having chats about different players.

"I have often gone to him for advice about dealing with young players and how to get the best out of them.

"Andy is really good one-on-one with the players and I used to tap into that side of him for a few tips, so we had many many conversations in Dunganny.

"He is really, really approachable, especially about football because he would talk football all day and all night."

Considered to be one of the up-and-coming young coaches in the county Nestor formed a solid bond with another former Meath player Anthony Moyles and together they did good things at Dunshaughlin.

Nestor went on to be a vital part of the Meath minor set-up and when asked by McEntee to replace the departing Gerry Cooney the former Blackhall Gaels players jumped at the chance. But what exactly would his role be?

"Nowadays the word selector is a loose enough term, in general we are all coaches to some extent,2 said Nestor.

"By the time I was called in I had six or seven years done coaching in Dunganny and I had a good bit done with Anthony Moyles at Dunshaughlin.

"I knew my position going in would be as a selector/coach. I was coming in under Colm (Nally) who is more or less the head coach and the rest of us are selectors/coaches.

"It was the same when Donal (Curtis) and Finian (Murtagh) were there too. We all have our bits to say and we all have our opinions which are valued and taken on board.

"Andy would say this is what we want to work on, but there is also huge buy-in and responsibility placed on the players.

"The players have a decent input into how we do things. Training doesn't get my blood going much, it's the game that's important and that's all that matters. Players love the game, they don't love running or slow skills-based work or video work, they love playing.

"So we have to make sure that when we train we are producing sessions that the players will feel are important to the game.

"We do a lot of game-based training. We work on things that we are good at and we want to get better on the things that we are not so good at that we need to improve on. The players come to us with stuff that they feel needs to be worked on and we come up with solutions, that's our job as coaches.

"There is discipline needed too. I was pretty head strong as a player and I haven't really changed much. Every now and then we all need our wings clipped when the need for that comes, but it also comes off the back of trust.

"If we say 'no, that's not good enough, that's not your standard', then players have to accept that because it comes from a place where we demand improvement for the team. We show things that are our standard and we expect those standards to be met."

So just how often have those standard been met in recent years and why have Meath struggled to find a level of consistency sufficient enough to trouble the so-called 'big guns'.

"Since I've been involved I'd say we have only met our standards maybe 50% or 60% of the time. The players know that. We have put 10 minute or half-hour spells together that have been up there, but consistency is an issue," insisted Nestor.

"The biggest example of that is last year against Dublin. If we had managed a 20-minute performance in the first-half like we produced for 25 minutes in the second-half we would have been closer. I know that's all speculation and it's easy to say when you're well beaten.

"I just don't feel that we have consistently put performances together, and the players know that. They talk very openly that they haven't earned the respect from the opposition or from our supporters because of that inconsistency.

"When you are consistently doing the same things really good, over and over again then people will want to come to see you. The supporters will see that the players are putting in a massive effort and they will get behind that, we want to give the Meath supporters that.

"To find a high level of consistency we have to get beyond our means. When you play you must go beyond your capabilities, you must push your body to an unbelievable maximum.

"They are the levels players need to be aiming for and once they break those levels of pain then it becomes normal for them and they won't know anything else.

"You see that a lot in elite performers, they go beyond all the time - they will do what it takes to achieve the necessary standards."

Another question that was raised following the Leinster SFC quarter-final win over Wicklow was why Meath would agree to playing their semi-final against Dublin in the 12-in-a-row chasing provincial champions back garden?

Nestor insists it was a no-brainer. It was either Navan or Croke Park.

"I know at the moment we seem to be a top of the ground team and the players love playing in Croke Park. We were praying that the game would be in Croke Park because we are a fast team and it suits us to play there," enthused Nestor.

"Let's call a spade a spade, the GAA have been very kind to Dublin in how they have let them play so many games in Croke Park over the years.

"They get their own dressing room, they get a lot of little gimmes. They have a nice little routine for playing in Croke Park, so to take them out of there would definitely be beneficial, but maybe only a point or two.

"I'd have loved the game to have been in either Navan or Croke Park, I'm not sure bringing them to Portlaoise or Tullamore or Nowlan Park is where I want to be when we get over the line against Dublin.

"Going training on a Tuesday and Thursday you don't dream of playing in O'Connor Park, but we do dream of playing in Croke Park.

"I work in Dublin, I nearly go out of my way to drive by Croke Park when I can, I've done the tour of the place six or seven times because I just love it there. I still get goosebumps when I drive through Phibsboro and see the stadium on the skyline.

"When I was sitting at the ladies league final took a moment to soak it in. I watched Shauna (Ennis) walking up those steps to collect the cup and was in awe, I looked out at Eamonn (Murray) on the pitch and wondered would I be as calm as he is?

"Those are the emotions we have attached to our clubs and counties and we really want to be in Croke Park when we get over Dublin."

So have Meath any chance of achieving those dreams next Sunday?

"We have been unfortunate by our geography to be in a province where we are pitted against one of the greatest Gaelic football teams of all time," laments Nestor.

"I wouldn't have understood that until I came on board last year. Sometimes there's scar tissue on your brain when it comes to playing against Dublin, that you can get so far but you can't go beyond them.

"You end up playing in fear rather than for the joy of it, but that is something we are trying to bring back. We want to bring back the joy of playing football.

"Colm and Andy would often talk to the players about letting go, about playing with a freedom, playing like they used to when they played three-goals-in. They want them to let themselves go and not play within themselves, especially coming up to weeks like this week.

"We really want players to focus on their own abilities rather than anything to do with the opposition.

"The players really enjoyed the second-half against Dublin last year. They really felt the support of the fans behind them and they want that feeling again.

"We've been starved of success as Meath people. When the girls started winning and the minors won the All-Ireland the Meath fans were coming out of the woodwork, we are crying out for a little bit of something.

"We often say to the players that if they give the Meath supporters something to cheer about then they are all-in behind them, 100%. The players felt that in the second-half last year and they want to give the supporters something again to cheer about.

"There is a lot of the fear gone, especially after the performances we had when we were in Div 1, only losing by a point or two against the top teams.

"I know our league performance and our results this year don't back that up, but between conditions, fitness, player availability and a few other factors there was plenty against us."We are looking forward to the game. Training has been excellent, the players are chomping at the bit to get going and we are ready," concluded Nestor.