When Meath finally gained promotion to Division 1 by beating Fermanagh last month, veteran defender Mickey Burke admitted it was ‘almost more important than the Championship’.
It wasn’t the sort of statement you’d have heard from a Meath player in 2004 when Burke made his debut, three years after the county had contested the All-Ireland final, but these are changed times.
The Leinster championship is seen as a write-off, a done deal and even the second-best team, on paper at least, is given no chance of wrestling the title away from Dublin.
Meath full-back Conor McGill insists it’s not so straightforward and maintained that the Royal County will be full of optimism when they begin their campaign against Offaly on May 12.
Asked if Leinster really is a done deal, McGill shook his head, “No, if you’re just going out to make up the numbers, there’s no real point. We’re going out there and we want to challenge ourselves against the best, to put it up to them.
If we get to play (Dublin) in there at Croke Park, give it a go. We’re competing to win Leinster, we’re not competing just to make up numbers and get knocked out and go through back doors and that.
Yet McGill said he could understand why Burke, Meath’s longest serving player, felt that promotion was such a significant achievement having last competed in Division 1 in 2006.
“Promotion was huge, it sets us up that everyone is in such a good place at the moment,” said the Ratoath man, who wants to use it as a springboard to a strong summer.
“We set our stall out that we wanted to go up. If you don’t meet your first target of the year it could have a negative effect on the team and the camp but we got promotion so everyone’s in a good place.
"There’s a good buzz around the place, in the county itself. We have momentum going into the Championship so we’ll bring that with us.
"We’re obviously not looking past the Championship but you already know that going into next year you’ll be going down to Killarney, Castlebar, Clones, all those places, it’s where you want to be playing, to be testing yourself against the top teams and it’s a really positive thing to have secured.”
The Leinster championship draw is seen as favourable for Meath with Offaly first up followed by a quarter-final clash with Carlow for the winners. Laois or Westmeath would be the semi-final opposition then, meaning Meath could reach the final without playing a Division 1 or 2 team from this year’s league.
“Everything we’re doing, we’re just focusing on Offaly,” said McGill of next month’s opener in Navan. “If we get over them, we’ll look to a quarter-final then but you see it so often in the Championship where the so-called favourites might start looking past it and they get caught on the hop. So everything we are doing is going to be focusing on Offaly and we’ll take it from there.”
The Championship begins on Sunday week when Mayo and Galway take on the Exiles of New York and London respectively. It will mark a return to the traditional rules with no Advanced Mark or sin-bin in place following the conclusion of the experimentation period for the four rules brought in last winter.
McGill said he found the Advanced Mark rule something of an anti-climax. “I didn’t think it was as influential on games, apart from the league final,” said McGill, who marked Michael Murphy in the Division 2 final defeat to Donegal. “I found it to be good overall. It means you can’t give the full-forward even half a yard because they’ll have a free shot if you do.”
The Leinster GAA Beko Bua programme is in its third year and seeks to reward best practice within clubs across the province.