The legendary Meath manager survived, but not by much. Belief in the managerial wizard seems to be fading a little in the Royal County.
As Trevor Giles points out, last time Boylan was challenged, after a demolition by Dublin in the 95 Leinster final, the herbalist found a magic potion to secure another Sam. Giles isn’t looking for portents ahead of this weekend’s clash with Westmeath but it is a pretty powerful one to ignore.
“The challenge to Sean last year was a fairly close run thing,” Giles said. “When it happened before in 95, when we were beaten by Dublin, Sean managed to turn it around to such an extent we won an All-Ireland the following year. So we might be going places this year.
“The team itself doesn’t really know where we are. People are saying we might win a Leinster because the province isn’t that strong. It is hard to know. We have a fair bit of experience but a lot of people don’t think we’re going anywhere.”
This will be the 10th season the radar in Giles’ boots will orchestrate things for the Royal County. In that time, he almost took it for granted Meath would reach a Leinster final at the very least. Before last season, it had happened only once, when in 2000 Offaly hid in the long grass and ambushed the then-All-Ireland champions in the first round. It had a few questioning the contemporary merits of the team who have been written off more than any other and, of course, the team who have proven more detractors wrong.
“I think we all dropped our standards last year. We didn’t really do a whole lot last year and lost a bit of ground on the top teams, so it will be interesting, both from a Meath perspective and from outside to see if we can make that up and get back into the top bracket.”
Meath footballers divide opinions like no other team in the entire GAA. After a decade wearing the Royal green, Giles concedes that everybody, even with a passing championship interest, are keen to know how Meath are going. While they have received many bouquets for their resilience and grit, more common are the brickbats for their physical edge to the game. If any neutrals tune their minds to Croke Park on Sunday there will be a maroon hue colouring their vision.
It has always been the way with Meath and will likely always be so. Despite the mercurial talents the team possess in Giles, Graham Geraghty and Ollie Murphy, they will forever be the team people love to hate. Giles has long given up worrying about the tag, but it was a contributory factor to Geraghty’s temporary retirement last winter. Now the richly talented Geraghty has returned to the fold and has just been termed the best all-round footballer in the country by one newspaper, is Giles more confident looking ahead to the season?
“I knew Graham was going to make a decision around April and I thought if he played with his club in the league, and played club football for the year, he would play with the county.” Meath recently went out to Portugal for a week’s training camp. Geraghty joined them and Giles realised what the team would have missed, particularly with Murphy out injured.
“Graham and Ollie have a good understanding. If we missed the both of them, it would have been a big ask. We do have plenty of cover in full-forward positions, but Ollie is hard to replace. He is the type of player who gets a vital goal when we need it.”
Even given the injuries to key players like Murphy and Nigel Crawford, who Giles commended for stepping into the gaping breach left by John McDermott, it is still a fairly strange Meath outfit for the clash with Westmeath. Midfield, especially, where Charlie McCarthy lines up with Nigel Nestor may struggle against the big Westmeath side.
“Westmeath are strong around the middle,” Giles admitted, “and we are playing a Westmeath team who look a lot better than they have been in the past few years. They beat a good Limerick side in the league final, they seem more consistent.
We have met a lot in the past few years met for the last four years, maybe. Everybody knows each other pretty well. They were good matches, we made couple of trademark comebacks in a few of them which isn’t the ideal way to win, keeping it late.”
Giles is feeling rested and refreshed. Like much of the Meath team. The Royals didn’t begin serious training until well into January this year and Boylan took a former stalwart in Colm Brady on board as selector and trainer. It meant fresh ideas and fresh impetus.
“We don’t know where exactly we are, we can just speculate. But Colm was head of coaching at Leinster Council and he has loads of different drills. He has come in and done a lot of things we haven’t done before. We never really bothered about diet, and we did bleep tests and other things like testing the body fat percentage. Doing things like that, you feel you’re doing things right; it gives you confidence.”
After the Compromise Rules games last year, Giles took time off and travelled New Zealand for a few months. He feels not running around a field in Navan in November did him the world of good and sharpened his focus for the summer ahead. Whether he believes it will be one of Meath’s traditional long summers, he’s not sure.
“If we didn’t play well on Sunday and didn’t play well in the qualifiers, I wouldn’t go blaming Sean or Colm like some might be inclined to, because obviously we are just not good enough anymore. The Westmeath game will tell a lot, it will show whether lads are good enough or have the nerve anymore.”
Words are never for mincing in Meath. Westmeath and the rest of the country have been warned.