Davy Nelson stepped down on Sunday night. Ben Brady/INPHO

Where did it go wrong for Meath under Davy Nelson?

The back-to-back All-Ireland senior champions are without a management team.

SUNDAY NIGHT’S STATEMENT was a bolt from the blue.

Mid-championship, and three weeks out from their All-Ireland series opener, back-to-back winners Meath were without a management team.

Davy Nelson had been in charge for just eight months, taking the reins from the now-legendary Eamon Murray last October.

Murray was a tough act to follow, but the former Meath U21 manager had enjoyed great success with Navan O’Mahony’s and was backed to make his impact felt.

It has been a disappointing and difficult few months since for the 2022 double champions.

The Royals have won just two of their 10 games across the league and Leinster championship. They were beaten three times by rivals Dublin, most recently in the provincial decider, while their best result at Páirc Tailteann was a draw.

And after Nelson’s shock departure, the back-to-back All-Ireland senior champions are in complete disarray ahead of their title defence.


There was no shortage of change on the Banks of the Boyne in 2023, with a new era beginning. The majority of Murray’s backroom team also stepped away, with head coach Mark Brennan and sports psychologist Kelley Faye just two constants.

Coaching mastermind Paul Garrigan and S&C coach Eugene Eivers were two huge losses, with both joining Colm O’Rourke’s set-up with Meath’s senior men’s team. They were major figures behind the scenes; Garrigan implementing the on-field system and set-up, and Eivers ensuring the team were fighting fit to play it.

Over the past few years, the players spoke so fondly of the management team behind their meteoric rise through the ranks. They told stories of Garrigan’s little knacks and anecdotes, from giving everyone rocks, stones and pebbles as symbols to chip away at, to letters of appreciation and other motivational tools.

mark-brennan-and-davy-nelson-during-th-game Mark Brennan with Davy Nelson. Ben Brady / INPHO Ben Brady / INPHO / INPHO

In terms of the playing group, there was some turnover too. Key defensive duo Emma Troy and Aoibheann Leahy (also injured) left to go travelling, while Orlaith Duff was among others who stepped away. Both Troy and Leahy were starters, with the former in particular a big loss. The 2021 Footballer of the Year nominee was an important cog in the machine, solid in defence but racing forward to regularly feature on the scoresheet too.

As expected, there was chopping and changing through the league but Nelson settled on Niamh Gallogly and Áine Sheridan as their replacements. Both had been on the panel for some time, with Gallogly a regular substitute, but their experience would have been well short of their predecessors’.

AFLW duo Vikki Wall and Orlagh Lally missed a chunk of the season, as did Emma Duggan due to injury. While young talent featured in the forward line, dual star Aoife Minogue formed a new midfield pairing with Máire O’Shaughnessy in Lally’s absence.

The Fremantle player was the last of the trio to return, playing a different role – a sweeper of sorts – in last month’s Leinster round-robin championship win over Laois and the final against Dublin. Wall and Duggan both made their seasonal bows off the bench in the sixth and penultimate league game, a home defeat to Waterford, and have been ever-present since.

Sharpshooter Duggan has led the way with 0-17 (9f) in five games, while Wall has chipped in with three points, but understandably, they have been well-marked and are finding it difficult to bring the spark Meath need.

Scoring struggles

Under Nelson, the Royals finished seventh in Division 1. Or second last to point-less Donegal. They won one game — against Donegal — drew with Galway and lost five in an underwhelming campaign as they relinquished their crown to Kerry.

In the Leinster championship then, they lost twice to Dublin with their only win coming against a struggling Laois outfit.

Taking goals out of the equation, they averaged just eight points per game in the league, and 10 in the championship. In a major shift, they’ve scored just three goals in total and conceded 10 across their 10 games, which have been subdued, out-of-sorts showings for the most part.

They’ve only hit double figures on the points tally twice: 0-11 against Cork and 0-15 against Laois, the latter their highest score of the season to date. In comparison, Dublin beat the O’Moore county on a scoreline of 3-14 to 0-3.

emma-duggan-maire-oshaughnessy-and-vikki-wall-celebrate-after-the-game Emma Duggan (left) and Vikki Wall (right) with Máire O'Shaughnessy. Tom Maher / INPHO Tom Maher / INPHO / INPHO

In the Leinster final, they had just three scorers: Duggan 0-7 (4f), Wall and Niamh O’Sullivan 0-1 each, while the Dubs showed a spread of seven. “Not good enough” and “a long way off it” were two soundbites from Nelson’s post-match interviews.

There’s no one single cause, either: not only are this current group of players struggling to create — and take — chances, but a lot of their opponents have also raised their game – and come armed with gameplans to take down the Royals.


Meath’s system is well-documented at this stage: they pull everyone but one or two back and set up defensively around the D, before counter-attacking at pace and with mayhem.
Their defensive, and often negative, tactics have frustrated many through the years, but they can also be attack-minded with their firepower on that front causing serious problems.

There’s a feeling that other teams have figured Meath out. After Galway fell one point short to them in last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final, Nicola Ward explained: “Our main focus was not taking the ball into the tackle because they’ll rip you apart if you do, and to use width in our game and run them down the wings.”

It’s clear to see that Mick Bohan’s Dublin have them sussed too. The issue is Meath haven’t really changed anything. Nelson didn’t put his own stamp on the team, and there seems to be a staleness to their playing style.

“We have to constantly keep changing it up and improving and keeping teams guessing. We can’t be predictable,” as Duggan said in January. But we’re still waiting on those tweaks.

It remains to be seen what happens next. The 42 understands that a new management plan could be confirmed within 24 hours, with The Meath Chronicle reporting that Murray — a regular presence in the stands still following his departure — could be in line for a surprise return.

One thing’s for sure: the All-Ireland senior championship is even more wide open now, with Waterford (25 June) and Donegal (1 July) lying in wait for the shaken champions.

It’s a disappointing situation for all involved, and one which Meath must now overcome.

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