ALL-IRELAND SFC RD4 QUALIFIER:
Meath v Tyrone
In an already tumultuous Championship campaign, a little piece of history is on the verge of being created at Croke Park tomorrow.
Should All-Ireland title hopefuls Cork and Donegal prevail as anticipated in their Round 4 qualifiers then, for the first time, no Division 2 team will have reached the All-Ireland quarter-finals.
It is reflective of the ever-increasing strength of Division 1. But it also highlights an intriguing power struggle that has taken place this season away from Division 1 between Divisions 2 and 3.
In the event of a Meath win against Tyrone at Croke Park, three sides from Division 3 will almost certainly be part of the Championship’s last eight.
Meath midfielder Conor Gillespie believes it proves that Division 3, which was won by Ulster champions Monaghan, is actually stronger than this year’s Division 2.
“Division 3 has a poor reputation,” said Gillespie. “But this year it was actually quite strong. You seen it with Cavan beating Derry. Ourselves in Meath have been going quite well. I’d argue that Division 3 was almost stronger than Division 2 this year.
“I think if those teams [Meath, Monaghan, Cavan] had come from Division 2, they wouldn’t have been labelled with the tag, ‘Oh, you’re Division 3, you don’t have any hope’.
“Together with that, in our case, Meath have a tradition of doing well in the Championship. So that League status didn’t really hold any relevance for us. Monaghan are probably the same. They have a good Championship record as well over the last couple of years. So coming from Division 3 hasn’t really had the same store as it maybe would have had in previous years.”
With Monaghan already through to the August Bank Holiday weekend and Cavan appearing assured of a win over London, it leaves it up to Meath to keep the flag flying for Division 3 teams. They have arguably the toughest task of the weekend, however, against a Tyrone side that showed impressive style and substance in overcoming Kildare last weekend.
It is Meath’s first game since losing to Dublin in the Leinster final and Gillespie expects an altogether different challenge. While Dublin set up in orthodox fashion, attacking at will, Tyrone prefer to get men behind the ball in defence and patiently stifle their opposition.
“Dublin were more flamboyant in attack and left a bit more space at the back,” said the Summerhill man. “So it’s probably going to be a different challenge. Tyrone would be a little tighter, more compact, so we’re going to have to deal with that.”
It is an occasion he is relishing though and not just because Meath have never been defeated by Tyrone in the Championship.
“When we got the message to say we were going back to Croke Park, it definitely gave you a little boost,” said Gillespie. “It gives the game more importance. I know it’s still a qualifier game but it almost feels like an All-Ireland quarter-final because you’re back in Croke Park against a big team. It’s almost easier to get up for, against such a big team.”
Gillespie turned in his best display for Meath against Dublin since lording it against Kildare in last year’s Leinster championship. He hopes to go head-to-head with Tyrone’s Sean Cavanagh, though Mickey Harte may yet reposition his talisman in attack.
Either way, Gillespie is optimistic of defying considerable odds and maintaining their 100% summer record against Tyrone.
“We’d be quite confident that we wouldn’t really fear anyone,” said Gillespie. “On an individual day, we don’t fear any teams in the Championship. We feel we can compete with anyone.”
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