Royal spirit intact
March 08, 2006
Meath are the forgotten men of gaelic football. With the Boylan era over, few punters would nominate the Royal County as genuine championship contenders in 2006. However, new boss Eamonn Barry has signalled his intent by culling the first trophy available to him as senior county manager and attacking wing back Seamus Kenny is adamant that the Green & Golds can have a major say in the destination of major honours this summer.
Traditionally, Meath are the team you never write off. The Royals don't know when they're beaten. Over the years, they've developed an uncanny knack of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Masters at defying the odds, Meath are a modern day gaelic football phenomenon.
(A lot of people are writing Meath off this year, though.)
Eamonn Barry is the new man in charge. He comes highly recommended, with a glowing CV and a tremendous track record in club management. He is a man on a mission, determined to restore lost pride in Meath football.
Meath have been underachieving in recent years but will find a new lease of life under Barry. A fresh approach, new ideas, a new beginning. These are exciting times for Meath football. It's the beginning of a new era and the Royal County will always produce footballers capable of competing at the highest level. They come from nowhere before and can do so again.
(Three of the last four All-Irelands have been won by managers in their first year at the helm.)
Whether Barry can follow in the footsteps of Kernan, Harte and O'Connor is a matter of pure speculation. However, if a first-time manager is going to lead his county to football glory in September, then the Meath boss certainly looks the most likely. The Tyrone/Armagh/Kerry axis of power won't last forever. It's only a matter of time before somebody emerges from the chasing pack to mount a real challenge. Exactly the kind of feat upon which Meath have built their fearsome reputation.
The Royals claimed the 2006 O'Byrne Cup with impressive wins over Westmeath, Dublin and Offaly - three of their main rivals for Leinster gold this year. While this is hardly the most prestigious competition in Ireland, there's nothing wrong with nurturing an early-season winning habit.
Simonstown Gaels clubman Seamus Kenny has been part of the Meath senior set-up for five years and he sees no reason why further silverware can't be added later this year: "Eamonn's main objective is to get Meath football back where we should be. To do that, we will set out to win every game we play. As a team, we know ourselves what we want to do and where we want to be. Leinster isn't beyond us this year and we intend to give it a real good shot."
Meath's form in the O'Byrne Cup was encouraging. Though it's far too early to assess their prospects for the bigger challenges that lie ahead, Seamus is pleased with the compact start to the year: "It's a decent enough beginning. The lads are all going well and everybody's eager to impress the new manager. There's a lot to play for and things are going alright."
Training started in earnest in late October/early November and Barry started out with an initial panel of about 40 players before welcoming back the more established players a couple of weeks before Christmas. At the time of the O'Byrne Cup final, the manager was still juggling a panel of about 45 players, so everyone in the county has certainly been given a chance to impress.
The players' eagerness was apparent as silverware was gleaned and Seamus Kenny believes it was vital that Meath got their new era off to a winning start. "It's definitely important to be winning games," he says. "You can never get enough victories. The O'Byrne Cup campaign should stand to us in Division One and hopefully we can maintain our league status. Last year we won most of our league matches but the fact that we were in Division Two probably worked against us when the championship came around."
Dublin pipped Meath in a pulsating provincial semi-final at Croke Park. Does the '06 O'Byrne Cup semi-final defeat of the metropolitans represent an important psychological blow with the possibility of another summer clash looming? "No, that'll be all forgotten when the championship starts. Both teams tried out a lot of new lads, so I wouldn't read too much into it.
"Having said that, we feel we can stake a real claim in Leinster this year. If we'd managed to beat Dublin last year, we could have got on a run and who knows where that might have led? I don't think Meath are as far off the pace as a lot of people are saying…"
Seamus Kenny first joined the Meath senior panel towards the end of 2000 and made his championship debut in '01. He won a Leinster championship medal that year and Meath went on to contest the All-Ireland final against Galway. It was quite a start to an intercounty career and the Simonstown youngster could have been forgiven for thinking there'd be major honours on the agenda every year. However, things haven't worked out that way and the Royals have drawn a conspicuous blank in subsequent championships.
Kenny notes: "A group of us came through from the Leinster-winning U21 team that year and reached an All-Ireland final in our first year on the senior panel. We probably did think it would be like that every year but it has gone downhill a bit since. We're hoping to get back on track, though.
"It's all new now and there's a different set-up. We've a new manager, new selectors, a new sponsor and a new chairman. It's a new beginning and we just want to go out and try to win every game."
How important will the national league be? "It's vital that we do well against the top teams. We have to get into a habit of competing with and beating the likes of Armagh and Galway. Our aim is to put in a few good performances and see how we go from there."
Seamus Kenny's father Paul managed the Royal County to All-Ireland minor and U21 successes in 1990 and '93 respectively.
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