Meath head north with nothing to lose

Story by Fergal Lynch

Friday, 12th July, 2019 12:56pm

Meath head north with nothing to lose

Cillian OSullivan against Donegal in 2017.jpg

With the horror of the Leinster SFC final loss to Dublin exorcised by the impressive victory over Clare, Meath can now look forward to the Super 8s with a sense of freedom and relief.
Starting with a trip to Ballybofey on Sunday Meath are in uncharted territory. Of course they have been in the quarter-finals before, but since the Super 8s were introduced last year this is where every team in the country wants to be.
History will show that Meath had the ideal course to this stage of the championship, but what the records might not indicate are the trials and tribulations the Royals have endured this year and how impressive that the 2019 trip has been.... so far.
Critics will points to the victories over three Div 3 sides to reach the Leinster SFC final and then the win over a Div 2 strugglers to secure their place in the Super 8s, but the reality of the run is that Meath were tested in many different ways and, apart from the blip against Dublin, they have survived.
This time last year all the Meath players and supporters could do was sit back and watch the Super 8s from the outside. Even 12 months ago the prospect of Meath being in the Super 8s seemed like a far-fetched dream, but fast forward a year and here the county sits, proudly at the top table with the best in the country.
There can be no denying Meath are where they want to be and after the win over Clare last Sunday coach Colm Nally reiterated that very point.
“This current Meath team is physically and technically as good as any team around, it’s the bit upstairs that’s the difference,” said Nally.
"You only get that through experience and that is why we are delighted to get to the Super 8s because we are going to get loads of experience over the next four weeks. Both Meath and Donegal know each other quite well at this stage. Everybody is putting Donegal up as the challengers to Dublin and everything they have shown to date proves they have been progressing.
“The likes of Donegal and Tyrone have had the luxury to be able to cater their training towards the Super 8s, we couldn’t do that.
“We have had to take every game as a massive one, so our job now is to manage the players week-to-week, so it it is going to be a real test.
“The big thing for us as coaches and a group of players is that we are going to learn so much about ourselves. That’s where we want to be and it’s the only way we are going to improve, it’s going to be a huge test, it’s where we want to be,” concluded Nally.
Already everybody is writing off Meath. Even after the Leinster final, respected RTE pundit Pat Spillane said that Meath's ambition of even reaching the Super 8s was "mission impossible" and that they had "no chance" - well Donal Keogan, James Conlon, Ethan Devine et al showed him, didn't they?
While a new found respect has been earned very few are giving Meath a hope of making an impression on the Super 8s, but it is off that back of those expectations that Meath tend to thrive.
The performance when losing narrowly after extra-time to Tyrone last year and the one-point defeat to Donegal in the All-Ireland SFC qualifier a year earlier should serve an indicators of what Meath are capable against the bigger fry.
Next Sunday Meath will travel to Ballybofey with no fear. They lost out to Donegal by a couple of points up there in February, but dominated the match and were left to rue the concession of a soft goal.
For all the criticism they received for managing just four points against Dublin in the Leinster final, some people seem to have forgotten very quickly about the 1-15 posted in the two-point defeat to Donegal in the league final - this is the same Donegal that everyone is regarding as the closest contenders to Dublin's crown.
Those two defeats coupled with the loss in the 2017 qualifier and the draw match in the league in 2014 proves that in recent times there is only a kick of the ball between Meath and Donegal.
Yet Meath are written off so much that they are regarded as 6/1 underdogs, with some bookies not expecting them to get within seven points of Sunday's hosts.
Meath certainly won't mind not being given a chance and one thing is for certain they will give it their all. Whether that will be good enough this time around remains to be seen, but no matter what happens between now and early August Meath are in bonus territory and owe no one, only themselves, anything.

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