Towards the end of the interview, Stephen Bray talks about the defensive-minded teams Dublin may face before the end of the Championship.
Meath aren’t one of them. “You can get bogged down in systems and tactics, or whatever you want to call it,” he says. “What suits your players best, we like to play a nice brand of football at times but we’re not afraid to work hard and be defensive if that’s the case.”
Donegal, he suggests, will provide that sort of challenge.
“It’ll be interesting for Dublin later in the Championship when they do come up against maybe some northern teams like Donegal who are, I suppose, their target and that will be interesting to see how they would cope without the defensive system as such.”
What are we to extrapolate from Bray predicting Dublin will be confronted by blanket rearguard by season’s end? That Dublin, whether they win or lose tomorrow, will be in the thick of it next month or did Bray absent-mindedly highlight a negativity on Meath’s part? Best to give him the benefit of the doubt. There’s nothing he wants more right now than a second Leinster medal although their camp is surrounded by pessimism and faint hope of keeping the margin of defeat as small as possible.
He saw for himself after beating Wexford how a proportion of the Kildare players were “out on their feet at times” against Dublin the last day.
Bray isn’t ignorant of what’s being said but he’s attempted to let all of it go in one ear and out the other. Turn up with the wrong attitude and they’ll begin tomorrow’s game as beaten men.
“You can’t let those thoughts come into your head,” says Bray.
“If you are to win, you can’t let those thoughts come into their head otherwise what’s the point in showing up? The way Dublin are being talked about now, it’s about an All-Ireland for them. They look that strong, it’s nearly a waste of time unless you are Donegal or Kerry — competing against them.”
On the flip side, he knows Dublin are expected to beat Meath. With that comes its own difficulties.
“For Dublin as well it’s pressure, they have to deal with that pressure, they are now being touted as not just Leinster but All-Ireland champions and they have to play three or four games before that happens so that is a lot of pressure to be dealing with. We are all only human, at the end of the day.
“Irish people in general like being underdogs if you look at the national rugby teams and stuff like that, it’s when you produce your best performances. Ireland beat Australia [in 2011 Rugby World Cup] when Australia were hot favourites and then Ireland lost, when they were expected to beat Wales.
“It’s not impossible, it is going to be a massive task, but we certainly don’t think it’s impossible.”
The familiarity between the counties means there hasn’t been enough opportunity for a trepidation of Dublin to spread among Meath players.
“You know, I think when you do have plenty of interaction like that, you don’t fear a team as much, but when you don’t play a team as often, maybe there is a greater fear.
“I think we are well used to playing Dublin at underage level, club fixtures. We have got respect for Dublin, but we definitely don’t fear them.”
Although, it’s fair to say Meath haven’t exactly beaten the cream of the crop on their way to a second successive provincial final with Dublin. Therein lies the concern.
“People talk about the whole strength of Division 1 and Division 2 teams are probably playing at a higher level. We’ve beaten Wicklow and we’ve beaten Wexford, who aren’t Division One teams. So it’s a gradual step, which is nice for a team as well.
“We’ve some younger guys coming through and it’s nice to not be thrown in at the deep end straight away. We’ve ideal preparation going into this game — we’ve built up nice momentum, we’ve progressed through the league, got back to Division 2 and we’ve had two good performances in the Championship, and that sets us up now for Dublin. But, I suppose, it’s going to be a different ball game against Dublin.”
Dunboyne man Bray goes into the game off his second full 70 minutes of Championship football, no mean feat for a player plagued with chronic hamstring problems.
“I’ve been working hard and keeping my fingers crossed and thankfully this year, in fairness to our backroom team, they’ve did a lot of work on just trying to keep myself right.
“I was just delighted to get 70 minutes under my belt against Wicklow and then follow it up against Wexford. The performances probably weren’t brilliant but I think I improved a bit against Wexford and if I can get a bit sharper, that’d be a great boost. Once you don’t have injuries and are playing consistently you’re going to improve and that’s a big bonus for me, personally.”
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