Graham Reilly has said that Meath have the physical conditioning of a Division 1 team, but that their footballing ability needs to go ‘up through the roof’ to survive there. The Royal County secured promotion as Division 2 table-toppers, by beating Fermanagh, and are back in the top flight for the first time since being relegated from the old Division 1B in 2006.
Former captain Reilly, on the panel since 2007, described it as a massive boost for the county to finally go back up, but is aware of the need for improvement. A whopping 14 of the 22 teams that have been promoted from Division 2, since the league was restructured in 2008, have gone straight back down within two seasons, Cavan and Roscommon the latest.
“All of the players, the conditioning that we’re in, and the fitness that we have, we’re all in Division 1 condition,” said Reilly. Footballing-wise, we know that’s going to have to improve. It’s going to have to go up through the roof. The top teams — Dublin, Kerry, Galway, Tyrone — they just don’t give away the ball very cheaply. You could see, at times against Fermanagh, we gave the ball away cheaply.
“What’s got us through the league is just, basically, our work rate and our appetite to get out of Division 2. I’ve been there 12 years myself, but we’ve a lot of new lads, who have been playing only in the last two or three years, yet they’re already sick of playing Division 2 football.
“We, as a county, had probably accepted that we’re Division 2 standard, rather than adopting the mentality that Andy McEntee has brought in that we have to be a Division 1 side. All the All-Ireland winners, all the Championship winners from the different provinces, are playing Division 1 football. So, if we’re not playing in Division 1, we’re not going to be competing at that level.”
Reilly attributed the spike in form this year to Meath’s raw hunger and huge work-rate in McEntee’s third season in charge. The St Colmcille’s forward admitted he was guilty of not working hard enough himself in recent seasons and had to improve.
He’s been used as an impact sub this term and came off the bench in all seven of their games, notching 1-2 overall.
“I think it’s just a mentality that the lads have brought in, that hard work is number one and if you’re not willing to work hard, then you’re not going to be on the team,” said Reilly. “It’s as simple as that. I, for one, could be faulted over the last number of years for maybe not working hard enough when I didn’t have the ball. If I don’t work hard enough, I won’t be playing. And that goes for one to 30 in the group.”