‘It’s not going to be any day soon that we are going to win an All-Ireland’
Colm O'Rourke had a message for the long-suffering Meath supporters after Saturday night's comprehensive defeat before an attendance of 9,033 at the Athletic Grounds.
It was a simple, straight-talking message, one he has been articulating time and again since he became Meath manager - but he felt it worth repeating once more after the 12-point pounding in the sumptuous home of Armagh GAA.
It's a message that asks something from the Royal County supporters, many of whom made the trip up north on Saturday. That something is patience, an understanding that the Sam Maguire won't be returning to the banks of the Boyne any time soon. That's one dream that can be dispensed with. Forget about that one for the time being.
A central part of the message is that Meath are where they are and it's a long way from the elite in the game. There was something else he asked of the supporters - an understanding of what this young crop of players are going through. He asked for kindness towards the players; an appreciation that they are a young side, still serving their apprenticeship in a demanding, unforgiving environment that can, when things go awry, be as harsh as a desert storm.
"The message is to keep the faith in those players, this is the project, there are very few (more players) going to come in over the next few years that's going to make a difference. This is the team for the next two to five years," he said at one stage during a chat with reporters after Saturday's latest setback.
In another part of the media briefing he touched on the same topic. "Again the Meath public have to realise it's not going to be any day soon that we are going to win an All-Ireland, it's a long-term project. We are going to have to be patient and kind with these young players," he added.
"They are going to have lots of bad days but you cannot substitute experience at this level. We are trying to do a project in one year that normally would take longer, you wouldn't expect a player to be a good inter-county player without two or three years under their belt at this level and that's the way it's going to be."
So, he seemed to be saying, we can expect more days like last Saturday. Days when the team puts together spells of promising, exuberant attacking football but where the greater experience of their opponents will ultimately win out in the end. Days when teams who can counter-punch like Armagh regularly did on Saturday, will expose an inexperienced, over-stretched Meath defence.
"Armagh are a bigger, stronger, much more experienced team than we are and once they got going life became very difficult for us, they seemed to be able to get runners coming from the back and have an extra man all over the place. While we coped with that early on the longer the game went on the more holes they were picking in our defence."
There was another familiar theme touched on by O'Rourke. The demands placed on players involved in the various college competitions, particularly the Sigerson Cup which is like an inter-county competition in itself. Recently he pointed out how 13 of his players were involved in the Sigerson in the same week, the tone of exasperation obvious in the tone of his comments.
Yet while he doesn't like to see players over extended he's not going to stop them either in taking part in competitions that he views as integral elements of their education.
"For fellas like Ciaran Caulfield obviously the Sigerson has taken a bit of a toll in terms of freshness and everything else but I'm not ever going to stop fellas playing Sigerson, some counties have done that," he said expressing thoughts he clearly feels passionate about.
"If a fella is just going to college and coming home training two or three nights a week it wouldn't be an education at all, it would be a boring thing to do. I think it's a good thing to play Sigerson because of the experience of playing with other players, other managers, different system. That's what life is about, it's an education in itself."
And so the attention turned to a strategy Meath employed on Saturday of playing the long ball up to former Aussie Rules player Cian McBride who spent much of his time around midfield but drifted into the Armagh goalmouth at regular intervals where he suddenly became a target-man.
It wasn't a strategy that produced rich dividends. One splendid pass from Darragh Campion did yield a point for McBride from a mark in the opening half but apart from that the route one approach just didn't work.
Meath will need to be far more imaginative in attack than simply lobbing ball into the goalmouth and hoping some of their big men - and there are now plenty of those in the team - will get a touch and hope a colleague will pick up the pieces. O'Rourke admitted as much.
"It didn't work that often," he added. "Maybe it's something we can improve on. Cian hasn't been around with us that much, he was away in Australia for a couple of weeks in January so he hasn't been with us but he will get back."
Whether we will see the resumption of the route one tactic for the next must win game against Louth at home on Sunday 18th February remains to be seen, lose that and relegation becomes a real issue.
Asked about the team's confidence and how Meath seemed to ship a deep psychological wound on Saturday when Armagh scored their opening goal in the led up to the interval O'Rourke agreed that yes, it did knock the players back.
"A young team like that it takes a lot out of them when a goal goes in coming up to half-time, especially as they had done very well up to that," he added.
Yes, he added, the players were still "working very hard in training", still giving it everything.
They just need to be shown patience and that other quality - "kindness" - by the supporters. The road they're on is long and rocky.