Tyrone defeat was catalyst for Meath's promotion charge says Royals boss Andy McEntee
MEATH boss Andy McEntee says their gut-wrenching championship defeat by Tyrone last summer has been the catalyst for their impressive league form this spring.
The Royals take on Fermanagh this weekend with their promotion back to Division One all-but secured. Only a seven-point loss coupled with a Donegal win over Kildare would prevent Meath finding their way back into the top tier after a 13-year absence.
McEntee, who won an All-Ireland club title with Ballyboden before taking command of his native county, saw his take Tyrone right to the edge of the cliff in Navan in their first round qualifier in 2018.
The Red Hands were down to 14 men and a point down deep in stoppage time when Kieran McGeary conjured a brilliant score for Cathal McShane that sent the game into extra-time.
Meath were then denied what looked like a certain free in the dying seconds as Mickey Harte’s side held on to win by the minimum, kick-starting their run to an All-Ireland final.
McEntee cut a devastated figure after that game, conceding that he was considering his future, but he returned and brought Colm Nally in as coach.
With an organised defensive plan and a counter-attacking style that can be as effective as it is attractive when they use the boot, they’re a side on a very definite upward curve.
“The general consensus is you learn more from your defeats, and in a lot of ways maybe that defeat, that performance and the manner in which we were beaten, I’d like to think it might have been a bit of a turning point for this group of players,” said McEntee.
“I think that’s where they said ‘ok, we’re not as far away as a lot of people would have us in their minds, we just need to commit to this process a little bit more and give ourselves a chance of achieving something together’.
“We’ve shown a little bit more resilience than in the past couple of years, and I’d like to think the whole experience against Tyrone has helped us along that path.”
Their performances have grown throughout the league and only for letting slip a lead in Ballybofey in a game they dominated and put in “arguably our best performance of the year” according to McEntee, they’d be up already with a 100 per cent record.
They played some superb stuff in MacCumhaill Park and led for the whole of the first hour but a goalkeeping error let Donegal in the back gate and they stole victory late on.
It was the same kind of sucker-punch that Tyrone had administered, and it’s the recovery to beat Armagh, Cork, Kildare and Clare since that’s pleased their manager most.
“There was no doubt we were, in most peoples eyes, vulnerable going into the next game [after Donegal] because there were signs there that we hadn’t made the progress we’d have liked to have.
“I think the reaction of everybody to the game – which was arguably our best performance of the year, or certainly for 60 minutes – has been brilliant.
“Likewise at the weekend [against Clare], there were a lot of things that could have derailed us. The postponement of the game, a couple of black cards, and again the lads showed a certain amount of resilience that’s very pleasing to see.”
Anything less than promotion is unlikely and would be a travesty, but they’ll face a Fermanagh side this weekend scrapping to jump up the ladder with them.
There’s a similarity and yet a contrast between the two styles of play, with Meath very keen on using the boot on the counter.
Fermanagh’s style is often criticised but moving to the brink of Division One is far beyond the expectations that most had for them at the start of the campaign, and McEntee feels the job Rory Gallagher has done is “quite remarkable”.
“It’s not a beauty pageant here. You have to look at the resources you have.
“Any manager’s job is to get the best out of the bunch of players that he has. Rory Gallagher decides that’s this is the best way forward with a limited pool of players and limited number of players he has in Fermanagh, you have to say everything he’s done this year has been quite remarkable.
“Whether you like it or not is not really the issue. His duty of care is to Fermanagh and those players.”