When the draw was made for the fourth round of the All-Ireland SFC qualifiers on RTE Radio on Monday morning it’s surely safe to say that the many Meath supporters either smiled or punched the air with delight (or perhaps both) when they heard their team was paired with Clare.
It was, in the circumstances, the best Meath could have hoped for as they side-stepped what, on paper at least, appeared to be far tougher challenges in the form of Mayo or Tyrone.
For Meath, they will be expected to win this contest and they should do just that, but favouritism brings its own problems. .
Not that manager Andy McEntee and his charges are likely to go into next weekend’s encounter with any feelings of complacency.
They simply can’t afford to do that, but they can certainly approach the contest with a real sense of optimism.
Last March the teams met in the NFL Div 2 and on that occasion Meath emerged the victors on a 1-12 to 1-7 scoreline.
The original fixture had been postponed for 24 hours after the Cusack Park pitch in Ennis was deemed unplayable because of heavy rain.
However, the Royal County did the business with Graham Reilly capping an excellent display with a goal.
Since embarking on their respective championship campaigns both teams have experienced the good times and the bad.
Colm Collins’ team went on to narrowly defeat Waterford in the Munster SFC before losing to Kerry.
Then it was onto the qualifiers and there they got their campaign back on track with a win over Leitrim. Then last weekend Westmeath were negotiated in a close affair.
Meath, of course, clocked up wins over Offaly, Carlow and Laois before hitting a major bump on the road and that 0-4 to 1-17 mauling by Dublin.
That game, on a misty day at Croke Park, revealed in startling detail some of the problems facing Meath when they come up against a well-marshalled defence.
While they defended stoutly for long periods against Jim Gavin’s side the meagre four points they scored underlined the difficulties their forwards had in finding gaps in the Sky Blue battlements.
At times Mickey Newman was moved outfield seemingly with the aim of creating space for the fleet-footed James Conlon to run into, but it just didn’t work out like that.
Sometimes the ball was played into Conlon and he found himself bottled up by the boys in blue.
The effect that defeat had on the Meath psyche and morale could also be a factor. It could undermine them or it could have the opposite impact, it could prove to be a launching pad.
The lack of a consistent free-taker could also prove costly.
Ben Brennan bravely took over the free-taking duties against Dublin, but he spooned a number of efforts wide although he will have learned greatly from the experience.
Even the legendary Brian Stafford suffered his quota of misses.
When they get their passing game going Meath can be a formidable force in terms of turning chances into scores as they showed against Laois and Carlow - and Clare could feel the brunt of it at the weekend.
When players like Cillian O’Sullivan, Bryan McMahon and Mickey Newman are on song, and the attack is working well, they can make opponents pay - big time.
Yet it would be foolish to underestimate Clare.
They showed real grit in digging out that victory over Westmeath in Mullingar last Saturday - that should serve as a red rag to the Meath management.
They have an excellent full-back in Cillian Brennan, with his surging runs.
David Tubridy is a player who can finish to the net as he showed so well against the Lake County while Eoin Cleary and Kieran Malone are others who can turn opportunities into scores.
Meath will be strong favourites to advance to the Super 8s, but they should be wary. Very wary indeed.
Former Meath player Kevin Reilly put it succinctly when he tweeted soon after Monday’s draw.
“It’s the draw that most Meath people wanted, however it brings enormous expectations down on the Meath team to deliver. Clare will see this as a great opportunity too.
“Can they regroup and deliver a performance? It’s in their hands.”
The Meath v Galway All-Ireland JFC semi-final that was originally scheduled for this Saturday, 6th July will now be played the following on either Saturday, 13th or Sunday 14th July after a postponement was sanctioned on Monday night. Meath cold be short a number of players due to the change.
BIG MATCH FACTFILE
NFL DIV 2
Sixth round - Meath 1-12, Clare 1-7.
First round - Meath 1-13, Offaly 0-14.
Quarter-final - Meath 2-18, Carlow 0-8.
Semi-final - Meath 3-13, Laois 0-11.
Final - Dublin 1-17, Meath 0-4.
Quarter-final - Clare 0-9, Waterford 0-8.
Semi-final - Kerry 1-15, Clare 0-12.
Second round - Clare 3-17, Leitrim 0-17.
Third round - Clare 1-13, Westmeath 0-15.
Sunday 7th July
Portlaoise - Meath v Clare, All-Ireland SFC qualifier fourth round.