O'Rourke laments worst first-half performance ever

In his report to Meath GAA convention, which will be held next Monday week, Meath senior football manager Colm O'Rourke reflects on his side's season and offers suggestions that could improve the football championships. Read the manager's full report below.

This was a year of change with a substantial turnover of players, a total of 42 played some type of senior football with Meath and 13 players played championship for the first time. Most of the major changes took place after the League finished. The reason was that the new management had, at that stage, been given enough time to make proper assessments of players and were able to make better judgements of their long-term potential.

The O’Byrne Cup was used extensively to try out new players and served a purpose in that regard. However, the weather conditions in January are not conducive to good football, or maybe any type of football. The night we played Longford was an obvious example.

The League itself started very well but finished with a whimper. The best performance was probably the first game in Cork and things disimproved after beating Clare in Navan. In our last five games, we only took one point which was very disappointing. Incidentally, the level of player change was advertised best by the fact that only six players who started in Cork were on the starting fifteen for the Tailteann Cup final.

The championship match against Offaly brought us to rock bottom. One of the worst performances in the first half of that game by any Meath team ever. The second half comeback failed but at least showed that there were loads of spirit in the team which the Tailteann Cup demonstrated. That competition came at the right time. Confidence improved with each game and the weekend in Waterford bonded the team together.

The improvements showed in training and by the time the final came around it was clear that there was no comparison between the team from earlier in the year and the one in Croke Park who played with passion, skill, and typical Meath spirit. Another match which gave us all a big boost was the earlier game with Down in Parnell Park where we came from behind in the last ten minutes to win by two points. It is quite a while since Meath won six games in a row and two in Croke Park so a further boost to confidence.

Nevertheless, we must also remember that we were playing teams from the third and fourth divisions, so we were entitled to be winning such a competition.

As the age profile of the team is very young and the sort of football played, it did give hope that we are on the right track and that there is potential for more progress next year. The enthusiasm of all players contacted to make the panel for next year is also noteworthy and the search for new talent goes on. We now must target a push for promotion as the big priority of the League. A further boost from the Tailteann Cup is that we are now guaranteed a place in the groups of four for the All-Ireland and the prospect of a big home game for Navan.

Meath Senior football manager, Colm O'Rourke, asks the linesman why a point was over ruled and a wide given, during the Offaly v Meath, Leinster SFC quarter-final at O’Connor Park, Tullamore, Offaly.Photo: Gerry Shanahan-www.sportinmotion.ie23-04-2023 Photo by Gerry Shanahan

Expenditure on the team last year was quite high with three overnight stays, in Cork, Limerick, and Waterford. This year there should be no overnights apart from Donegal. All other teams in the second division are reasonably close. Medical costs will also be less than last year and overall, there will be substantial savings. In saying that crowds for home matches have been very good and it appears like that for Club football too. There does seem to be a feel-good factor in Meath presently and we must capitalise on this so spending on the Football team, so long as the team improves, is a catalyst for the County Board to increase revenue substantially.

The regional competitions have been successful, perhaps not as well attended this year, and should continue so in the future as they double as unofficial trials. Players emerged from these games either straight on to the senior panel or onto our development squad. This new initiative of having another squad working alongside the Senior panel worked well. It means that about another twenty-five players in the 20 to 24 age bracket, are getting good exposure to high-performance training while not interfering with Club matches in Spring.

Four of the secondary panel made the jump to the senior squad in the Spring and Seán Coffey was the most notable success as he played in all games after he made the change. Indeed, with another group of players underneath the U-20 squad it meant that around a hundred players were being constantly monitored, many of whom won`t be ready for a couple of years.

This is a general report on the year, and I am optimistic for the year ahead as I see a new enthusiasm, commitment, and dedication to the cause. Most players are also at an age where they should improve. One of the big drawbacks in Meath football is the lack of success at U-20 or previously at U-21 level. These are the players we expect to make the jump onto the senior team and obviously, a Leinster championship at this grade would breed confidence. Nevertheless, several of this year’s U-20 squad have made a significant contribution to the Tailteann Cup success and more are likely to play next

year. The same applies at the Club level and the standard of Club football and the conditioning of players does not compare with Dublin and maybe even some other neighbouring Counties. The Senior and Intermediate championships were not of a high standard even if both finals had a good bit of quality. More competitive games might improve some teams and I would suggest that there should be play-offs between the second and third-placed teams in groups for the championship proper rather than the third-placed team going into relegation play-offs. That is much too harsh for them. In practice, a third-placed team could have three or indeed four points and could still be in relegation trouble. An extra weekend to play more games in the relevant football championship is not only justifiable but satisfies the most criteria of all, fairness.

In conclusion, I wish to thank the members of the County Committee for their constant support and goodwill. I am sure there were plenty of times during the early part of the year when some were wondering if we knew what we were doing. There was always going to be a bit of pain in making wholesale changes to the panel, but it was always better to get it done quickly and build for the future. Yet while the results were not good, I was treated at all times with the utmost respect, and I am also quite sure that the same was true in reverse.

Next year there are some changes to the background team, a new Doctor, John Holian from Navan is a specialist in Kidneys at St Vincent`s Hospital. He regards it as an honour to be involved with the Meath team and does not want anything for it. Paul Conneely from Moynalvey is the new lead Physio and Barry Horgan is taking over the Strength & Conditioning, and it makes perfect sense to have him involved given his international experience in this field. He will be assisted by Daithí McCabe. Trevor Giles is a huge addition to our coaching team.

On a personal level I would like to wish John Kavanagh well as he decides to move out of the Chairman`s office. John was always supportive, generous, and his advice was concise and well thought out. Furthermore, a man of the highest integrity. I hope he returns to serve us all in some capacity at a future date.