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Colm O'Neill/INPHO Meath manager Andy McEntee.
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'This championship, more than any championship over the last decade, is the most important for Meath'
Senan Connell reckons the Royals must reach the Super 8s, says Donegal can be contenders, and feels Mayo must win Connacht.

SENAN CONNELL RECKONS this year’s championship is Meath’s biggest in a decade as they bid to build on their spring promotion from Division Two.

The Royals have been drawn on the opposite side of the Leinster Championship to Dublin and begin their provincial assault at home to Offaly on 12 June.

Kildare, Connell says, were the ‘springer’ last season as they reached the inaugural Super 8s stage, but feels Meath are best equipped of those outside this year’s top-flight to make a burst for the All-Ireland series with the aim of edging towards Dublin in standard terms.

“Meath are just slowly building and we seen with the McEntees here in Dublin, Gerry — I know he’s not involved this year, but he was in the background in the first year with Andy — he brought Brigid’s to an All-Ireland semi-final and Andy did a job with Ballyboden,” Connell told The42.

“Everywhere the McEntees go they do a job so it was only a matter of time before Andy was going to bring this Meath team to a place and they’re at that place now which is heading for Division One.

Bryan Menton dejected after the game Oisin Keniry / INPHO Meath defender Donal Keoghan after the Division Two final loss to Donegal. Oisin Keniry / INPHO / INPHO

“They need to get to the Super 8s. I think this championship, more than any championship over the last decade, is the most important for Meath because they’re ultimate goal has to be to get to the Super 8s.

“Whatever about putting in a performance against Dublin here, it’s about getting to the Super 8s and the experience of playing Division One sides in championship, bringing the confidence forward into the league next year and then maybe in the next couple of years we could be looking at Dublin and Meath competing again, because it is happening at underage level.

“During the week there was a tight enough match [Dublin U17s vs Meath U17s], 4-10 to 2-10 win for Dublin, and Meath minors have beaten Dublin in recent years.

“That gap is narrowing again; they seem to have their house in order after neglecting development squads for a long time.”

If Leinster’s other giant, Kildare, are to make it back-to-back last eight appearances, Connell believes Daniel Flynn’s presence will be crucial, while Donegal, he adds, are a side capable of reaching the latter end of the All-Ireland series, with teenage forward Oisín Gallen being tipped as a player to watch

“Donegal are not going to be a surprise package, but might cause a surprise and get to a semi-final or final.

Shane Gallagher with Oisin Gallen Oisin Keniry / INPHO Donegal's Oisín Gallen (right) is one of the players to watch this summer, says Senan Connell. Oisin Keniry / INPHO / INPHO

“If [Patrick] McBrearty is back, all of a sudden that axis with [Michael] Murphy, there’ll be less pressure on the young fella, Gallen, and he can kick scores.

“They’re finding their feet, they’re finding forwards and Stephen Rochford can certainly feed information about playing against the most experienced teams in the most difficult environments.”

Mayo, meanwhile, embark on a Connacht campaign in which they will seek to earn a first title in three seasons. That, Connell insists, is a must in James Horan’s opening year of his second stint as county boss.

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“What’s realistic for me has to be a Connacht title because the pendulum has swung: Galway have the advantage there. It should be a Mayo/Galway final so I’d say that’s James’ initial target because it’s your stepping stone into the Super 8s then and that next level.

Mayo have proven themselves to be a Croke Park team, so Connacht is where their issues lie and even in MacHale Park, it’s not a cauldon any more, Galway have no problem going and playing there.

“I think Mayo have won more games in a two-year period in Croke Park than they have in MacHale Park. Their initial target has to be to win Connacht and wrestle back that momentum and I think Mayo supporters want that, they don’t want to be looking over the ditch at Galway with a Connacht title in their back pocket.”

Senan Connell was speaking as Sky Sports announced its GAA fixtures for the 2019 Championship. A total of 20 live, and 14 exclusive, fixtures of Championship action will be available on Sky’s multi-platform offering throughout the season.

Gavan Casey and Murray Kinsella are joined by Andy Dunne to get stuck into last weekend’s Champions Cup semi-finals.:

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