Meath’s football graph has enjoyed a steady rise these past 18 months and so the mercury in the supporters’ barometer has moved accordingly.
The Royal County following now demand prolonged summer campaigns, insists manager Mick O’Dowd. Meath’s footballers, having arrived at the doorstep of the leading eight, are no longer prepared to wait outside.
Once more is there a “buzz” surrounding Meath football, proclaims O’Dowd.
Hardly surprising really. Sunday’s provincial decider represents their third on the hop and, aside from the recent final defeats by Dublin, Meath haven’t lost a Leinster championship game in three years.
“I’d say there’s a buzz around the county again. And I’m sure expectations have risen as our performances have risen,” he asserts.
“We’d four Championship matches last year, our last two were against Division One teams, and they were reasonable performances. So I suppose Meath people, coming into this year, were enthused by the team.”
When questioned if he was disappointed by their two Championship defeats in 2013, the manager answered ‘yes’ to Tyrone, ‘no’ to Dublin.
“The Leinster final was gone from us coming into the home stretch,” he explains.
“In the opening half of that game, we had a lot of chances that we didn’t take. We were two up at half-time. They had chances too but we felt we could have been more up at half-time. So that’s where the learning was. When you get your chances, you need to be more clinical.
“I think the depth of our squad has improved. They definitely had a bigger return from the players introduced, as they would have throughout last summer and as they are having this year as well.
“We would have spent a lot of time throughout the O’Byrne Cup and the league in developing our squad. With the way the long-term injuries hit us, we’ve had to do more work in that. More opportunities came to players.
“We’ve brought in a lot of new players into the squad and they’ve been building their experience through playing different opposition at the highest level. We’d be happy we are better prepared this year.”
A victory is of course paramount this weekend, but O’Dowd’s vision is long-term and securing their seat at the top table is the goal.
“Meath people always love this game. It’s very close to the heart. Meath and Dublin clashes is what you grew up with. They’re great games, great occasions, and most kids have memories of ’86, or ’91, or ’96.
“A Leinster title would be great and beating Dublin would be great. It would show massive progress by the squad. I still maintain in the long-term you have to become a top eight team. That’s the big picture, the long-term stuff and you have to be playing against the top teams regularly to develop individually and collectively.”