Jack Walsh and Sean Quigley will lead the Meath charge in Sunday’s Joe McDonagh Cup opener in Ballycran.

More heartache awaits Clynch’s charges

It wasn't supposed to be like this. Meath senior hurlers about to go into the championship season in a state of flux and uncertainty.

There was supposed to be, instead, a seamless transition from the league campaign to the McDonagh Cup because consistency and stability is what you need when you are going into the competition that contains accomplished hurling teams such as Westmeath, Laois, Offaly, Down and Kerry.

What you don't need to do is lose your manager a few weeks before the action kicks off as Meath did recently when Seoirse Bulfin stepped down as team leader due to "personal reasons and family commitments."

Former player Steven Clynch - who was part of Bulfin's backroom team last season when the Royals won the NHL Div 2B title and the Ring Cup - has bravely stepped forward to take the reins. To help him settle in and get used to the job he has to take his side up to Ballycran next Saturday for his team's opening round clash with Down.

Could it be any more of a difficult start for the new men at the helm? In the context of the second tier competition the answer has to be a resounding no - not much more difficult anyway. Ballycran is a noted graveyard for Meath teams. The locals are warm and welcoming but once the action gets underway there is no stopping them.

The players go all out for victory and they are backed by a fiercely partisan home support who are passionate about their hurling, forming as it does, an integral part of their identity as a people; as a community. The place is exposed to the elements and the northerly wind can carry a biting edge.

What happened to the Royal County a few weeks ago is a case in point. They went up to the home of Down hurling in the heart of the Ards Peninsula for a league game and put up a battling display, as they always do, but were steamrolled by the home side who ran out comfortable winners, 3-19 to 1-16.

It didn't help that a misplaced pass gifted Down a goal leading up to half-time. That's something no team can afford to do in Ballycran because with quality players such as Tim Prenter, Eoghan Sands, Pearse Og McCrickard and Daithi Sands around the Mourne County are well equipped to take full advantage. Up to the concession of that goal Meath were in with a shout. Conceding turnovers in such circumstances is similar to feeding sharks with a morsels of meat and hoping they will go away.

Earlier in the year Down, who have Cork hurler Diarmuid O'Sullivan as their coach, came to Longwood to take on Meath in the Kehoe Cup and won that game also (2-20 to 1-16) - something else that serves to underline the many dangers and pitfalls Meath face in the picturesque Ards Peninsula.

The Meath stats from their league campaign don't make for encouraging reading either. Of the five games they played in Div 2B they scored 5-78 but conceded a whopping 16-95 - and were duly relegated.

Such figures suggest Meath greatest need is to shore up their defence; to park the bus if needs be and build from there. In the league game there were times when Down tore through the defensive cover with alarming ease.

No matter what way you look at it Sunday's assignment is fraught with danger for the visitors - but Meath have reasons to be cautiously optimistic too. It's not all bleak.

Clynch and his coach Trevor Cummins have some fine, experienced players of their own who can help turn a game or make telling contributions. Players such as James Toher, Nicky Potterton, Podge O'Hanrahan, Charlie Ennis, Sean Geraghty, Simon Ennis.

Others have emerged more recently who have shown they can withstand the physical and technical demands of inter-county hurling such as Kris Gorman, Willie Gleeson, Daire Shine, Tom Shine, Ronan Byrne and Domhnall Rogers to name a few.

Will it all be enough to overcome Down on Saturday in their own backyard? It is very doubtful. Recent victories have given Down a psychological edge over the visitors from the Royal County. A hex.

Meath are very much a team in transition with recent turmoils doing little to ensure consistency and stability.

It all points to another victory for the proud Ulster side in a location where Meath teams have tasted unlimited heartache over the years.