The knives are being sharpened, the guns oiled. Seamus McEnaney’s detractors in Meath have their ammunition.
As far as they’re concerned, not much has changed from 12 months ago. They are still too close to the ha’penny place with four points from five games in Division 2 and only avoiding being second from bottom on score difference.
That’s precisely where they were at this same stage last year, their bacon only being saved on the final day by a draw with Tyrone and Kildare doing them a favour against Sligo.
What’s overlooked is Meath, even after three consecutive defeats this month, find themselves with a remote chance of promotion.
After wins in the opening two games and even after that one-point defeat to Kildare in Navan, it was all the chat only two weeks ago.
But relegation is understandably the matter pressing most minds.
Defender Caoimhin King can ream off plenty of things distinguishing this season from 12 months ago. For one, he remembers last March some U21 players still being brought into the panel for trials as McEnaney played catch-up in getting to know players.
The panel is more settled this year, with the 30 brought in at the start of January more or less the same.
“The game seems to be changing all the time,” says King, “and management are picking players for the way the game is going and that’s going towards athleticism. There are a lot of fast, fit young lads.”
Meath have adjusted their style too. McEnaney, along with coach Marty McElkennon, has reverted to a more possession-drive tactic.
As the Dunshaughlin man explains: “He’s trying a system of play bringing a sweeper back. We’ve been changing the style of what traditional Meath teams would have played.
“It’s been taking awhile even though it worked pretty well for us in the first two games. The boys were flying against Monaghan.
“We decided we’re going to stick to that pattern and most lads agree that it’s something that will suit us a bit more because Joe (Sheridan) is gone now and the long ball option might be gone as such so we’ll have to play it through the hands a bit more. We’ve smaller forwards now inside like Paddy Gilsenan than last year when we had 6ft 6in Paddy O’Rourke inside. We just have to play the game to suit ourselves and work our way in more than we had done in the last few years.”
Players aren’t as concerned about the form as they were last year. They’re disappointed, of course, as promotion was a goal and it’s an objective now fading. Earlier this week, they met with management to discuss the recent poor results.
Last weekend’s defeat to Derry — their second reverse at Páirc Tailteann in the campaign — was the most disappointing.
King admits he played below-par himself.
In what he describes as the most competitive battle for defensive spots he’s experienced in his eight years playing for Meath, he reckons he’s fortunate to start this evening.
“I didn’t play well and was taken off. I had nobody to blame but myself,” he recalls of last Sunday.
“We were so flat on the day. I can’t explain why we were so bad.
“We played well in patches against Kildare so I don’t think lads are too down about things. We’re looking forward to Tyrone and the challenge that lies ahead more than anything.”
Yes, that Kildare defeat did hit them bad. A fifth consecutive competitive defeat to the Lilywhites in an enthralling game “knocked the stuffing out of us“, according to King.
He admits captain Seamus Kenny, himself and a number of the more experienced players were “hit hard” by the result.
“We had put a massive effort into trying to beat Kildare because they’ve beaten us beat the last few times. We thought we could go to Galway and put it right and when that didn’t happen, lads dropped the heads a small bit and it kind of came out in how we played last weekend.
“Kildare are a good side and probably look good for promotion. We’ve improved from playing them last year and the gap has narrowed a small bit.
“We’d never fear playing Kildare but at the same time it’s a result we want to change. We’ll be putting a big emphasis on trying to beat Wicklow and Carlow to get them again in the championship.”
Tyrone, even though they have gained promotion, are promising there will be no let-up in their approach, which has garnered them a 100% record for all competitive games in 2012.
King thinks back to last year’s final game when Meath drew with Mickey Harte’s side on a tense afternoon in Navan.
“We thought ourselves we were going to get relegated but we performed as best we could and results went our way.
“Meath teams always respond to that and wouldn’t fear playing big teams. Hopefully, we can put in a perfor again in Omagh.”
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