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'It wasn't that popular playing for Meath' - Royals legend on their turnaround in fortunes

Mattie Kerrigan thinks the county is starting to reap the rewards of its underage set-up, ahead of tomorrow’s Division Two final.

Bryan Menton and Darragh Campion celebrate Meath's promotion from Division Two.
Bryan Menton and Darragh Campion celebrate Meath's promotion from Division Two.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

THE RISING TIDE of Meath GAA will descend upon Croke Park tomorrow as they bid to land the county’s first major title since the 2010 Leinster Championship [5pm].

Andy McEntee’s men face Donegal in the Division Two final having already secured promotion back to the league’s top flight, following a 10-year exile, in which time they have dropped as low as the third tier.

But, if recent results are to be taken as a sign of things to come, it seems as though the Royals’ upward curve is built on solid foundations. Their only league loss having been suffered at the hands of Saturday’s opponents, a game which Meath legend Mattie Kerrigan feels they were unfortunate to lose having played their “best football” of the campaign.

Kerrigan played for and managed the Royals across a stellar career, and coached many future All-Ireland winners during stints with the county’s underage sides in the 1980s, leaving him well-placed to assess Meath’s current health.

Mattie Kerrigan 31/2/2002 Meath legend Mattie Kerrigan as Cavan manager in 2002. Source: INPHO

He casts a very positive outlook, especially on the back of Meath’s back-to-back provincial wins at U17 level. The development squads, Kerrigan says, are producing quantities of quality which they simply weren’t in the earlier part of this decade and further back.

“I think we’re starting to get the best out of our resources and that’s all you can ask for,” the Summerhill man tells The42.

“I’d be very positive, I’ve always been very positive, but the work going on at underage level has been massive and with Meath, alongside Kildare and Dublin, having a massive playing population, I’d be happy where things are going.

“This team that has been promoted would mostly be on the young side and they have come through the system. It’ll be interesting to see how they develop from here on in.”

Of the four counties making-up the finals double-header at HQ — Leitrim, Derry, Meath and Donegal — the Boys in Green will likely draw the strongest following, supporters who, Kerrigan feels, have taken intense satisfaction from the county’s run to Division One.

Andy McEntee Meath manager Andy McEntee. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Indeed, the masses on the Páirc Tailteann terraces for recent games against Kildare and Fermanagh — tight affairs which saw the Royals edge home — is a portent of the steps forward Meath have taken.

There is now an appetite to represent the county from within, an appeal which didn’t exist so strongly that long ago, he adds.

It wasn’t that popular playing for Meath.

“I remember Paddy O’Rourke opted out because he said the training was too much and at the end of the day they weren’t any further on. I didn’t agree with Paddy’s comments at the time, but, obviously, players weren’t making themselves available.

“But I think at the end of this campaign, with getting to Division One and all supporters, there is a feel-good factor around Meath and players will want to make themselves available to play or be part of the panel. They’ll want to be playing against the Kerrys, the Galways and the Mayos.

“The feel-good factor that was there in Navan last weekend when they got promotion, to see that out on the field… The players weren’t hopping around, but there was definitely a positivity afterwards where people were happy and certainly the older generation would have been reared on Meath winning big games.

“It’s a huge challenge for Meath going forward. There is no doubt that they need to build their squad to survive in Division One, but that’s the kind of challenge you look forward to and that you want and I’ve no doubt, knowing the kind of man Andy McEntee is, that he’ll relish that challenge.”

Cillian O'Sullivan scores a point Cillian O'Sullivan in action for Meath against Fermanagh last Sunday. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

However, looking ahead, Kerrigan isn’t convinced that Meath’s passage to a first Leinster final since 2014 will be all that easy. Despite avoiding All-Ireland champions Dublin in the draw, he points to Leinster’s Division Three contingency “Louth, Westmeath and Longford” as being capable of providing obstacles for Meath and co.

But a Division Two title would send out arguably their most meaningful signal of intent thus far and, ahead of their championship opener with Offaly, arm them with a first Division Two crown since 2007.

Yet Donegal are primed to start as favourites, a tag which Kerrigan reckons will suit Meath, and provided they remain in the game past the halfway stage, he feels they’ve a great chance of victory.

I think the biggest plus for Meath all year has been their fitness levels.

“The fitness levels of the Meath team I would say are probably as good as anyone in the country at the moment and it was probably the deciding factor in a lot of the games where they were able to see out the match, apart from playing well and getting the confidence from winning.

“I would see it as a 50-50 game that if Meath are still in with 10 minutes to go, their fitness levels could see them go all the way.”

Murray Kinsella and Bernard Jackman look ahead to a huge weekend for the provinces in Europe and Ryan Bailey catches up with Ian Keatley on the latest episode of The42 Rugby Weekly:


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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