KIERAN McGeeney needed little invitation to take a quick trip down memory lane at the mere mention of Armagh’s next opponents, Meath.
After dropping down from the top flight, the Orchard got their Division Two campaign up and running with a one-point win over Louth on Saturday night – and Colm O’Rourke’s Royals are the next visitors to the Box-It Athletic Grounds.
The playing careers of O’Rourke and McGeeney briefly overlapped in the early 1990s, but there were many more battles with Sean Boylan’s men in the years that followed – with Meath emerging victorious in the two most significant meetings, the 1994 National League decider and the 1999 All-Ireland semi-final.
And the legendary Boylan is now part of O’Rourke’s backroom team as he bids to bring the Royals back up the ladder.
“Ah yeah, Sean’s helping Colm now,” smiled McGeeney, “you used to be able to leave the ball on the sideline because it was about 10 minutes into the game before anybody actually started playing with it.
“But listen, things have changed. When you see the size of some of these boys coming in now, I could laugh at people saying it’s sanitised. They’re big fellas, you wouldn’t want to be running into some of them.
“I watched Meath last year, saw them in the O’Byrne Cup, they’ve a couple of new players and they have pace, they have power… they went up the steps in Croke Park last year.
“We know we have a target on our back, but that’s a good thing.”
Coming off the back of last year’s Tailteann Cup triumph, Meath might have been expected to kickstart their campaign with victory over promoted Fermanagh – yet they could only salvage a draw after trailing the Ernemen by three with 10 minutes left to play in Navan.
McGeeney, though, wasn’t at all surprised Kieran Donnelly’s side had come so close to rumbling the Royals.
“See that’s the thing about expectations – you take them at your peril.
“Fermanagh are another team who know how to defend, they’re very hard to break down, really quick on the counter.
“From my own experience, it’s a bit like Armagh, you see them in the Championship and everybody would be thinking ‘aw, Fermanagh up in Irvinestown, no problem’. We’ve thought that before and got our ass handed to us many times, so it’s about being respectful of every team and taking those chances when they come.”
The Orchard were guilty of passing up a couple of gilt-edged goal chances in the first half against Louth, but beginning with a win – in whatever form it came – was the key objective coming into the opening weekend.
“As you see it’s tight - very tight - and those chances are important,” added the Mullaghbawn man, whose side didn’t open their account until the 19th minute as the Wee County moved into an early lead.
“When you get those goal chances, two v one, they’re the main things. You could go on and maybe win five or six, you miss them and you could lose by five or six. It’s a tight sort of division.
“But the main thing is really getting two points on the board. I was reading some of the notes in the match programme and we played Louth in ‘96 and didn’t score in the first half. All the boys that write about the modern game being terrible - if that happened nowadays there’d nearly be a warpath out for us.
“Louth were probably one of the best teams in the Championship last year - people forget. Even in the super 16, the only team that was able to deal with them was Kerry.
“They are very strong, very physical, tall around the middle. They are really good ball players and they’ve serious pace on the counter with [Conor] Grimes and [Craig] Lennon.
“We knew coming in it was going to be a tight game. If it comes down to a point or two, you just want to be on the right side. If you look at last year, every loss we had was by a point.”