New Meath manager Davy Nelson is looking forward to the challenges ahead.

‘I can’t be Eamonn Murray or Sean Boylan I can only be myself’

When he accepted the task of managing the Meath senior football team last Autumn Davy Nelson knew he would be grappling with challenges on a number of fronts.

The level of expectation, for starters, he knew would be sky high and because of that there would be a certain amount of pressure. Meath are, after all, pushing for three successive All-Ireland SFC crowns in 2023. They are the queens of the castle everyone wants to bring back down to earth. They are the target. The main target. He knew all that.

What he didn't expect or had forseen (nobody could have) was the level of change in terms of the composition of the Meath squad and consequently the size of the rebuilding job required. That was something that came out of left field - a real bolt from the azure sky.

Now on the cusp of a new NFL Div 1 campaign Nelson asserts that over the coming weeks the Meath team will have an unfamiliar look about it as the new manager and his lieutenants go about moulding and shaping a new side.

"We all recall that day in July last year, the day Meath defeated Kerry to win the All-Ireland final for the second year. That great day. Of the Meath players who played that day nine of them won't be with us for this NFL campaign, five starters and four of the subs that came on won't be there for us, that's huge, 60 per cent of the players. So, it's going to be a very different Meath team in the NFL from what the supporters have become accustomed to in recent years," he points out.

Vikki Wall and Orlagh Lally, who had travelled to Australia soon after that win over Kerry, won't be available until the summer. Emma Troy is travelling in 2023; Aoibheann Leahy and Kelsey Nesbitt are recovering from cruciate problems, while Bridgetta Lynch (who scored a goal in last year's All-Ireland final), Orla Byrne, Emma White and Orlaith Duff have also indicated they won't be available this year either. It's all changed, changed utterly.

"I knew about the girls going to Australia, of course, and Emma Troy travelling, but the other girls I wasn't expecting to be moving away. Everyone has there own path and everyone has their own choices to make, they all have been tremendous and they have a life outside football. You have to respect their decision even though the moves take away some wonderful All-Ireland winning experience from the panel," adds the manager.

Then there are the changes in the management structure with Nelson joined by another former O'Mahonys player Bernie Murray. A recent addition is goalkeeping coach Paul O'Connor, an ex-Monaghan player and Brian Stafford's brother-in-law. There's someone else on the ticket who Nelson feels is essential to the whole project.

"One very important cog in the wheel is Mark Brennan, one of our coaches, who has been there for the last three years with these players and knows them well. Without him I would be lost."

All the changes suggest Meath's NFL campaign will be a journey into the unknown. As well as being All-Ireland champions Meath are also NFL Div 1 titleholders; another reason why opponents will want to take them down; lower the green and gold colours.

The Div 1 campaign includes games against a plethora of powerful sides including Dublin, Kerry, Donegal, Cork, Galway, Waterford and Mayo with four of the seven games away from home including the first two against the Sky Blues and Donegal. So an easy start for Meath then! The new manager says that while every attempt will be made to win every league game, his focus, and consequently that of the team, is further down the line.

"We couldn't have picked a harder start, but that's what it is and while the league is important, nobody has asked me how many league medals I have from my playing days and I have a good few of them. There's winning and losing and I know what I prefer on any day but there's no doubt, the championship will be the main focus."


Not that the task of reconstructing the team is one Davy Nelson shrinks from. You get the sense talking to him that, if anything, he relishes the chance to put his imprint on the team and meet the challenge, head on, of sustaining the Royal County at the top of the pile.

He certainly knows what it takes to win a championship. He won six with his club Navan O'Mahonys as a player and four as a manager. He also led Latton to the top of the hill in Monaghan. He also had spells as manager of the Meath u-21s and juniors in a coaching career that has spanned a quarter of a century.

Despite that vast reservoir of experience he has never managed a ladies football team until now. He had no plans to manage ANY team in 2023 but events transpired to ensure he took up the baton when Eamonn Murray stepped away.

"After 25 years I took my first break from working with any team and I was saying it's going to take something extraordinary for me to go back into management because the break was welcome, but then Meath Ladies came looking for me and they are an extraordinary team.

"Yes, of course I was very conscious of having to follow the incredible success the team has enjoyed over the last number of years but someone has to follow up and help to ensure Meath stay top of the table. I never backed off anything in terms of a challenge. It might not be the perfect situation but it is what it is and now we'll do everything we can to keep Meath up there."

Nelson has learned a thing or 10 about taking a group of people and turning them into a formidable unit capable of achieving goals. Right up there, he asserts, is the fact that any manager is dealing with people first and foremost. The principle applies equally sport and in business (he runs a furniture company and a health enterprise).

"Number one is the understanding of your player as a person. Sean Boylan said to me many, many years ago, get the person first, then you get the player. I like to build up a relationship with the person, that's important in terms of coaching them and helping them. If you understand where the person is in life, whether college or work or whatever it is, that's going to assist with helping towards making that person a better player on the pitch.

"Coaching itself is a vast topic but the first thing is to build that rapport with players so that when they train and play they can be the best they can be. "I can't be Eamonn Murray or Sean Boylan, I can only be myself.

“We have seen in the men's game how we can fall a long way so there are no guarantees in sport but keeping Meath up there, year in, year out would drive me on. Meath has got to the top of the mountain, let's see if they can stay up there."

He doesn't plan any radical change in tactics or approach, it's about tweaking things and just for the record Nelson doesn't find any difference between coaching female or male footballers. The basic aim is the same - to turn a group of individuals into a formidable team; a collective.

His way of doing things also involves dealing with people in "a clear and honest way." He's not one for shouting and roaring. It's about showing people respect. It's all part of an approach, a managerial strategy, that has worked for him in the past. It may do so again.