Time moves on but some memories remain etched in the mind. I can still vividly recall the day, in 2005, when news broke that Seán Boylan had stepped down as Meath manager.
As a player who suffered at the hand of his Royal crusaders during the late 1990s, we in Dublin had begun to turn the corner, and enjoyed a reversal of fortunes with our wins over Meath in the Leinster Championships of 2002 and 2005.
Those triumphs had come after tough battles as Meath continued to show that inner spirit, self-belief and grit for which they were renowned.
So when news emerged that Boylan had stepped away, it was music to the ears of the Dubs. We knew that he would not easily be replaced, and there was a chance Meath could struggle to regain momentum.
Meath would go on to have five different managers over the next ten years, and they struggled to find any real solid ground underfoot. Andy McEntee took the reins in 2016 and set about restoring lost pride.
In 2019, Meath looked to be taking positive steps on their climb back when they got promoted to Division 1 – and competed reasonably well, despite their three defeats, in their Super 8s group against Donegal, Mayo and Kerry.
Progress halted during Covid and it was obvious that all the various powerbrokers in Meath were not pulling in the one direction, as McEntee had to be saved by a vote of club delegates before this season’s commencement.
McEntee had lost his county. No matter how tight the dressing-room management and players are, the opposing voices on the ground and in clubs will always seep into the dressing-room. It all showed in Meath’s performances this summer – and it was clear clearly obvious the players were not performing for their manager.
The appointment of the next Meath senior football manager is critical. hugely important. The debate seems to be circling around whether that person should be an internal candidate, or an external one with a track record – like Malachy O’Rourke.
What Meath require now is someone who will unite the county. Someone that carries the gravitas and has a respected track record. Someone who has the influence to put a strong backroom team together, and has the ability to pull together the finances to support the group on their journey.
The obvious candidate would be Colm O’Rourke in my view. He holds all the attributes required – and through both his club involvement at senior level and his years of involvement with St Patrick’s Classical School in Navan, he knows the majority of players in the system.
While board officials may have to relinquish some of their power and control to a strong personality like O’Rourke, they need to be brave enough to do what is best for Meath football.
Now to this weekend’s action – it’s exam time throughout the land, but for Armagh and Donegal they are already sitting their repeats as they meet again. I cannot help but think that this was certainly not the draw that Donegal wanted.
It’s a evenly matched game against a team you have beaten twice in the last three Ulster Championships. This year, by seven points, in the Ulster quarter-final. And two years ago, at the semi-final stage, by 12 points. It’s a 50/50 game against a team coming off the back of a huge confidence-booster win against Tyrone.
Psychologically, it’s an intriguing place for both teams. There is a cliché that “you learn more in defeat”, which does carry some relevance – and that has to give the Orchard County a head start in terms of their mental preparation for this game.
However, Donegal will have reflected hard on another Ulster final flop, and it will grate with them that they played with fear and apprehension against Derry – and failed to play in accordance with their own game-plan.
You would expect one of their key performance indicators will be to take risks, and use their strong pace and running ability to go hard at the Armagh defence. In their Ulster Championship game, Donegal had success with this aspect of their game with Paddy McBearty’s goal the perfect example of how they got in behind the defence.
While Donegal will be annoyed with their display against Derry, and keen to address their shortcomings of that day, Armagh will likewise be driven to avenge their loss to Donegal. Armagh will feel they gave Donegal too much respect, in their Ulster Championship clash and there was a nervousness to their performance where they stood off Declan Bonner’s outfit.
After a fairly passive first-half showing, Armagh stepped it up on the restart but they spurned two goal-scoring opportunities that could have injected much-needed confidence and belief into their performance.
Instead the drive and belief drained away from Kieran McGeeney’s side – and Donegal were able to pick them off and close out the game. comfortably.
I find it difficult to trust either team, so it’s hard to and therefore make a confident prediction. For me, Donegal still carry more individual ability but Armagh collectively look like a team that will defend with more physical intent, which could lead them to the quarter-final stage. in te race for Sam.
Tomorrow it is Croke Park or nowhere for Kildare or Mayo. Two weeks on and I am still baffled by how Kildare thought they could come to Croke Park and have a shoot-out with the Dubs.
I was obviously naive when I thought that the Lilies were holding back in their Leinster semi-final victory over Westmeath and would have a different game-plan for Dublin.
Leaving Con O’Callaghan one-on-one in the open spaces of Croker was not a viable plan. However, it is hard to believe that Kildare will make radical changes to their set-up in such a short period of time.
The way Mayo and Kildare both set up, this game has the potential to be a very open, entertaining contest.
Mayo’s strength is their defence and midfield, but they are lacking a real punch up front. Kildare have top-class forwards, a strong midfield partnership but are struggling defensively.
Mayo will be comfortable in the surroundings of Croke Park and they will enjoy the the time and space Kildare will give them in possession of the ball. Last week’s win against Monaghan was not far from perfect but it was gave them something to build on.
Elsewhere, who would have thought that Cork or Limerick would have been in contention to make a quarter-final at the start of the year.
John Cleary has put a solid structure in place for Cork with Seán Powter dropping in as sweeper, where he is supported by Ian Maguire in closing down the scoring zone.
Limerick are a big, physical, running team who work it through the lines but Cork, to be fair, have responded to the early-season criticism and their improved work-rate combined with some of their individual quality will be too much for Limerick.
Colm Collins has done a tremendous job with Clare but the Roscommon forwards will just be too good in the open spaces of Croke Park. After a flat performance against Galway, Anthony Cunningham’s men will be too strong for a Clare team that is just not clinical enough up front.