It was a touch harsh on Eamonn Barry, Meath’s manager at the time, though the national newspaper headline ‘Barry’s bizarre decisions backfire’ did sum up the confusion felt by some supporters at the time.
Meath were hosting Kildare in a Division 1B Allianz League encounter in 2006 and with 25 minutes on the clock both Joe Sheridan, arguably their best player, and Brian Farrell, who’d just hit 1-1, had been substituted.
Barry explained afterwards that they were ‘not doing what they were told to do’ so were replaced. Meath, who played into the wind in the second-half with 14 men following Peadar Byrne’s 29th minute dismissal, lost the game by two points.
A couple of weeks later, they finished the campaign tied with Kildare and Armagh on six points and were relegated on scoring difference.
Tomorrow, in Omagh, 14 years on, they’ll finally return to top flight activity.
“I was nine when we were last in Division 1,” said midfielder Shane McEntee. “There are other lads on the team now that are a good bit younger again.
I think Mathew Costello was only born in 2001 so he hardly remembers it at all.
The intervening years weren’t kind to Meath who, lacking big games against top teams, got their feet stuck in mud and mediocrity.
Operating in Division 2 and, for a spell, Division 3, they met Division 1 opposition 15 times in the Championship between 2010 and 2019 and won just three times; against Kildare (2014), Galway (2011) and Dublin (2010).
It’s why bookmakers make them overwhelming 2/5 favourites to be immediately relegated this spring with Monaghan next at 11/8.
Recent league history suggests they could struggle too with Cavan and Roscommon both promoted in 2018 and then relegated from Division 1 in 2019.
In all, five of the eight teams that won promotion from Division 2 between 2015 and 2018 - Down, Cavan, Kildare, Roscommon and Cavan - went straight back down the next season.
“In the odd moment of weakness you think of the worst-case scenario where everything goes wrong for you,” admitted Meath manager Andy McEntee, who maintained those thoughts don’t linger for long.
We’ve got to step up, we have to perform, we know the consequences of not performing.
In the debit column for Meath ahead of the trip to Tyrone is the loss of Mickey Newman, their top scorer in last year’s league, following hip surgery. He’ll miss the campaign while Seamus Lavin could too with knee trouble. Shane McEntee (back), Ethan Devine (elbow) and Padraic Harnan (shoulder) are all short to medium-term concerns.
On the credit side, the Wallace brothers, Eamon and Joey, county title winners with Ratoath, are both back for 2020 while Ronan Jones, a promising midfielder in 2017 before moving to the US, is back full-time from March. Another plus is the apparent strong connection that’s been re-established between the team and supporters.
“I’d be quite sure that that bit of extra support will feed into the energy of the team, we definitely found that last year,” said Shane McEntee.
“I felt it was stronger than any other year I’ve played for Meath, underage or otherwise.
There was a real connection there and I definitely felt big benefits from it.
The hope is that Meath can pinch a win tomorrow and then make Navan their fortress for back to back home games against Donegal and Mayo in February.
“Look at the Kerry game in the Super 8s last summer which was effectively a dead rubber, it was bananas for that game,” said McEntee the younger.