Meath adopting new minor approach
By Michael Devlin
The journey of the Meath minor team that will take to the field tomorrow to contest the All-Ireland semi-final against Galway began in earnest over three years ago according to team manager Joe Treanor.
The current age-group assembled for their first training session as Under 14s on March 29, 2015 at the Meath Centre of Excellence in Dunganny, with Monaghan native Treanor at the helm. Since then he has remained with the squad all the way up through the grades as part of a new approach to youth development within the county’s GAA coaching structure.
“This is probably the first year group where they’ve implemented the program, where a manager follows a team the whole way up,” said Treanor. “Historically they might have changed at Under 16 and had two years to run into minor.
“For me it’s been a long term plan. These are young fella’s, so it gives you time to build up that degree of trust and get to know them. Personally it’s worked out well, our results have been fairly solid over the last couple of years, and I can’t complain about it.
“Young fella’s from 14 to 18, there’s a lot of things going through their heads. For me, it’s important that they have some stability, and that they know you and they know what to expect. You get to know them and what their strengths and weaknesses are, and a lot of it comes back to that ‘trust’ element.”
That long term plan has been designed to reassert a platform for Meath football in years to come, not only in building teams that can compete at underage levels for silverware, but developing players that will go onto backbone senior Meath teams in the future.
Treanor reiterated the importance of this ‘squad-building’ process, and ensuring the Royal County will be in a position to challenge for honours every season. “We probably realised we had a decent squad at Under 15 level. We played 23 games that year and lost only two, so we knew there was definitely potential there. After that we went back and did full trials again, some guys dropped out and some new guys came in.
“Again, the mind-set was that the minors are important but we are trying to build players that will move on up into U20 and Junior and Senior squads eventually.
“2012 was last time Meath got to a Minor final. One of my selectors, Paddy Gilsenan was on the last Meath team to win a Leinster Minor back in 2008, and I’ve another selector who won the last Minor All-Ireland in 1992. For a county like Meath, it’s probably too long since we’ve been winning Leinsters, or All-Irelands indeed.”
This year has been a long season for Meath, with eight games already under their belt. They came through the provincial group stage winning four games out of five, overcoming tough challenges against Offaly and Dublin. They went on to capture their first Leinster title in ten years with dominant displays against Laois in the semi and Kildare in the final. The duration of the season has allowed Treanor to harness the depth of his squad.
“It’s great to still be playing football in the middle of August. It’s been a long campaign, we’re facing into our ninth game now .The upside of that is it’s allowed to blood every player in the panel. We’ve a panel of 34 players, every one of them have had game time at some stage during the eight games so far.
“It’s given me the chance to see guys playing in Championship football. However way we get on over the next game or two, every player can feel a part of the Championship campaign. For me it’s been really good and hopefully most of the lads have enjoyed it.”
The young Royals had to withhold a terrific second half comeback from Derry in a rain-soaked Athletic Grounds in Armagh to book a place in the All-Ireland final four. Aided by a first half wind, Meath shot into a nine point lead at half-time, but the Oak Leafers staged a fightback to bring the deficit to just one with ten minutes to go. Treanor’s resilient side though managed to see off the challenge and push on for a five point win.
“It was the old cliché is that it was a game of two halves. Derry are sort of the aristocrats in Ulster over the last four or five years, they know how to do it. A bit like us, they have built out their squad this year, and we knew they were going to come back at us, particularly with the wind and they did just that. We let them back into it and went to sleep for a short period, but I think the last ten minutes of the game we woke up again and put them away eventually.”
Saturday's opponents, Galway, have been impressive. A dominant force in Connacht minor football in recent years, they secured their fourth successive provincial title with a 0-15 to 1-9 victory over Roscommon.
Their own quarter-final against Clare was in direct contrast to Meath’s. They conceding 0-8 before eventually registering their first score. Nevertheless the Tribes County teenagers kicked into gear and emerged convincing winners 0-18 to 0-11.“Galway have had a really good campaign, they beat a very good Roscommon side twice. Themselves and Kerry are the only two teams who are unbeaten.
“Clare really stole a march on them, and the fact Galway came out and scored 15 points in the second half tells you there was maybe a bit of a breeze they took advantage of in the second half, and that they know how to find the posts.”
The plan for Joe Treanor and his young charges though is to keep the journey, - and the progression of Meath football - going, with a place in the showpiece final on September 2 the next target. “I set out with a ten game campaign in mind, so our ethos all year has been to develop the squad. Hopefully on Saturday evening, we’ll be planning for Kerry or Monaghan.”