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battle royal Meath do look built to score goals. They possess strong runners. They have pace. They have youth. But Dubs won't switch off like 2010


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Joe Sheridan celebrates Meath’s victory over Dublin in the Leinster SFC clash at Croke Park in 2010

Joe Sheridan celebrates Meath’s victory over Dublin in the Leinster SFC clash at Croke Park in 2010

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Joe Sheridan celebrates Meath’s victory over Dublin in the Leinster SFC clash at Croke Park in 2010

If you're from Meath and in the market for good omens this week, there must be something uncanny about them scoring 5-9 last Sunday?

It's a bizarre score-line for an inter-county game.

And it's tattooed into my memory because of the meeting we had on the Tuesday after Meath put that same exact score on us in the 2010 Leinster semi-final.

I've never seen a more microscopic, granular analysis of a match than the review Pat Gilroy conducted into that one, an excruciatingly in-depth investigation into the route of the goals we conceded.

Pat had unearthed clips taken from different vantage points showing tiny movements, some practically naked to the eye.

The smallest, most minuscule breaches of our game plan. Momentary lapses of concentration.

Different angles. Close-ups. Still frames.

The upshot was that me, Barry Cahill, Mossy Quinn, Conal Keaney and Bryan Cullen were to blame.

Pat deduced this by trawling through footage and with extreme prejudice, assigning responsibility.

One of us might have turned our back on a free when it was awarded to Meath and another mouthed to the referee when there was something more productive we could have been doing.

And there was nothing we could say. The evidence, as presented, was irrefutable. Guilty as charged.

Here's the thing though.

You could have picked out a hundred different reasons we conceded those goals; some systemic, others born of individual errors.

I'm sure Pat uncovered just as many, if not more, instances of other players making mistakes or abdicating responsibility.

It wasn't so much an objective analysis as a witch-hunt.

And us five, some of the most experienced players on the team, were the ones being accused of witch-craft!

Pat probably felt that we still had baggage from previous defeats and probably some bad habits too.

He wanted to expose us. We were the ones whose behaviour had to change if the culture of the group was to improve. He made his point.

It was a risk. But Pat knew the effect holding us culpable would have on the rest of the squad and, particularly, on us.

Anyway, I'm sure Dessie Farrell has gone through all 12 goals Meath scored in the space of a week and has made up his own mind by now whether it's something he needs to change his set-up for.

When a team scores goals in flurries like that, it's hard to know whether they're consciously looking for the net with every possession in power plays or whether they've just benefitted from some slack defending and/or having a higher level of energy than their opposition.

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Dublin captain Alan Brogan leads out the team against Meath in 2010

Dublin captain Alan Brogan leads out the team against Meath in 2010

SPORTSFILE

Dublin captain Alan Brogan leads out the team against Meath in 2010

But Meath do look built to score goals. They possess strong runners. They have pace. They have youth.

Ordinarily, this would be the stage of the championship when 20 year-olds get overwhelmed by the intensity of the play.

But watching last weekend's fare, it's noticeable how easy some of the younger players in this year's championship are finding it.

Peadar Morgan looks like breaking tackles every time he has possession for Donegal.

Eoghan McLaughlin and Oisín Mullen have replaced Keith Higgins and Colm Boyle in the Mayo team without anyone passing comment.

Maybe it's due to the heavier ground. Maybe they can get away from the older lads a bit easier now.

But at a time when the source of the majority of goals is teams creating overlaps, pace and energy is invaluable.

Ten years ago, you couldn't be an effective inter-county team without strength and size. Now? You'll go nowhere without speed.

Dublin, of course, have both.

But they use those weapons now only in controlled explosions.

It means they're not quite as exhilarating to watch. The days of raking 60-yard kick passes are gone. They take fewer risks.

But because their passing is so accurate and their movement is so orchestrated, they can create a scoring chance without anyone having to do anything spectacular or risk turning over possession.

Then, when they get inside, they unleash all that power and pace to finish the score.

Repeat that process 30 times in a game and you get an idea why they're so hard to beat.

So Meath will have to try and find little ways of getting at them, interrupting their flow, forcing turnovers and breaking at pace and hoping that goal-scoring is now a character trait of the team, rather than the result of some freakish outbreak.

The obvious area to try and do that is Dublin's kick-outs.

Laois set up last Saturday with two banks of four players lined up in zones and had some initial joy. But as always, Stephen Cluxton figured it out.

When I played with Dublin, we could have four phases of kick-outs. If option one wasn't on, we'd quickly realign for the second one.

If that play was closed off, we'd move into formation for the third, and so on.

For that to be effective, it requires hours upon hours of preparation and for everyone on the pitch to be switched on at all times to play their role.

Meath need sporadic joy on this to have any hope on Saturday. But they also need to keep scoring goals too, and it's imperative that they stay as close to Dublin as they possibly can or they'll be slowly submerged.

Because Dublin are relentless. They'll keep doing what they do until the final whistle.

The days of Dublin players switching off are long gone.

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