Simon Ennis will hope to lead the Meath charge against Donegal in the NHL Div 2B final.

Jimmy Geoghegan: 2B or not 2B, that is the question for Meath hurlers this weekend


One of the quirks, the little foibles, the eccentricities - call it what you will - of the NHL format is that a team could top their table and still not get promoted. Fair or not that's the way it is. At least that's the way it is in Div 2B.

Meath have finished top of the division after all the group games have been played but promotion is still just an aspiration; an ambition; a target yet to be achieved.

Seoirse Bulfin's side have led the Div 2B race from the off yet there is still one fence to be cleared - and potentially it's the biggest obstacle of all; a veritable Beecher's Brook. They face Dongal in Sunday’s divisional final at Carrick-on-Shannon (2pm) hoping to carve out the win that would finally seal the deal. It would indeed be cruel if, after been the front-runners for so long, the Royals were to be denied the title; to stumble in the run-in, fall victim to a horrible Devon Loch moment.

That's something Bulfin and his boys will be looking to avoid in Sunday's decider. That's one of the chief objectives, the other is to win the damn thing but wishing and hoping for something alone doesn't make it happen, you have to go out there and do the business - and there are very sound reasons for believing Meath can complete the deal, finish the job.

There is for starters, the not inconsiderable fact that Meath have won all their games, five from five, notching up 129 points in the process and conceding only 87. That compares favourable to Donegal’s 105 for and 126 against in their group games.

However the game of hurling is clearly undergoing a growth spurt in the north-west. That was very forcefully underlined in the way they chalked up a shock 0-17 to 0-16 win over Wicklow in last Saturday’s semi-final despite having a man sent off.

Most observers of the game would have put their mortg age on Wicklow winning even though Donegal finished second in the group - so they are not to be taken lightly. Yet Meath will go into the final as firm favourites - and with reason.

Their 1-23 to 0-16 win over the Ulster in February was far from a stroll but Meath led all the way. They never looked seriously threatened.

Other factors combine to give Meath firm reasons to be optimistic including the return to form of Jack Regan. Regan brings to the table that ability to inflict damage from frees and play but also the kind of leadership that can inspire others around him. Often during a game he can be seen urging his colleagues to greater efforts. Other sources of optimism includes the form of players such as Eamon O Donnchadha, Simon Ennis, James Toher, Brendan McKeon and Pa Ryan. Damien Healy too has found a new lease of life with a switch to full-back during the campaign. Behind him is Charlie Ennis, the Trim netminder who is well capable of pulling out of the hat a spectacular save or three if required. That knowledge alone provides a certain defensive ballast that must be reassuring to his colleagues in front of him.

Yet Donegal are clearly a side capable of producing a big performance. They have fine, assertive players such as Declan Coulter, a sharp-eyed marksman who registered eight points in that game in Navan. Then there is Liam McKinney, Gavin Browne, Ruairi Campbell who are well capable of causing Meath problems. Bulfin’ team have sound reasons to be wary - and no doubt they will be just that after the Wicklow shock.

Yet there are enough reasons for believing the Royals can finally achieve what they have been chasing all along. That precious promotion spot.