We live in strange times. Not only can a team lose four championship matches in the one summer these days, but they can feel pretty good about themselves on the back of it. And with good reason.
Andy McEntee wasn’t exactly jumping for joy after Kerry subjected them to a third straight Super 8 defeat but he could still look back with some satisfaction on a season that delivered promotion to Division One and an elevation to the rarified heights of the last eight in the All-Ireland.
That’s a good body of work and the Meath manager put it into even greater context by pointing out that they played eight championship games in 2019 and only two 12 months earlier. That exposure to the highest grades will stand to a young team when they pick up where they left off come February.
Youth is on his team’s side. Bryan McMahon was the oldest member of the forward unit that started two days ago and he is just 25. The whole squad demobbed on the back of another hugely encouraging performance against one of the country’s best sides.
“It wasn’t A-grade experience because you were still getting beaten but it will count. I’m sure it will,” said McEntee. “The like of Darragh Campion, Shane Walsh, Ethan Devine, James Conlon, those guys are all 21 or less. To come in and perform like they have, consistently, is very encouraging.”
Meath still need a few more forwards of top pedigree if they are to progress further. Scoring just four points against Kerry in the second-half speaks eloquently for their attacking issues and there is the fact too that they faded late on against Donegal and Mayo having traded equally for long spells.
If you were being ultra critical of Meath you could point out that they played four Division One sides this summer, lost by 16, nine, nine and eight points, and fell away after the hour each time. And that they played lesser opposition four more times and won them all. “What is happening... no disrespect to anybody, we are playing teams who have been playing at this level a number of years, five, six seven, years,” said McEntee. “This is our first experience playing strong teams.
“Every player you come up against is a strong player, strong and athletic players, and that’s a constant pounding and pounding and pounding, and we just have to get used to being able to live with that for a little bit longer.”
First division football will steel them to those realities in quick order. Whether it serves as the type of preparation required to bounce through into the championship is another thing.
“I guess it depends how those seven games go really. Teams that have gone up have struggled and then you get into a habit of losing and then it can be hard to turn it around. So, it’s important for us that we go home and lick our wounds.”
All of which is for another day. As is talk of his own intentions for 2020.
“That’s not my call and it’s probably a little early to be even asking it. Certainly early to be thinking about it.”