Meath hurlers determined to get back on track
By John Harrington
When Sean Geraghty looks back on Meath’s 2018 Joe McDonagh Cup campaign, what disappoints him most was that they never really fired a shot.
They lost all five of their matches, three of them quite heavily to Westmeath, Antrim and Laois.
After a couple of years of sustained progression, 2018 felt like a step backwards for the Royal County hurlers.
“The first two games, we just came unstuck,” Geraghty told GAA.ie
“Antrim did a job on us in Navan and then Westmeath just tore us apart in the first half at Cusack Park. Then lads' confidence was down and when that happens you start doing stuff that you haven't really worked on.
“We tried a sweeper system which is something we hadn't naturally worked on. You needs lots of times to work on these systems of play and we were trying to force them a bit.
“The hardest thing of a county at our level is keeping a panel together and we suffered a few injuries last year and a few other lads couldn't commit. Unlike the stronger counties we need all the hurlers in Meath pulling in the right direction.
“We suffered as a result and it was hugely disappointing. Last year felt like a roadblock because before it we felt we had been making progress year on year.
“And the thing was we weren't just beat, we were well beat. That was very disappointing because the one thing we pride ourselves on is hanging in there when things are tough and we just didn't do that last year.
“We lost momentum and our confidence was shot. You can say what you like, you need those two qualities, especially when in the Joe McDonagh Cup when you're playing five games in five weeks.
“You need confidence and you need a panel, and both of those things let us down last year.”
If Meath beat Down in tomorrow’s Christy Ring Cup Final they’ll have another opportunity to show what they’re capable of in the Joe McDonagh Cup in 2020. That’s the goal that has been driving them forward all year.
“The main thing we chatted about this year was getting consistency into our game,” said Geraghty. “That we'd have a level of performance we should be getting to both in training and on the playing field.
“We had a strong chat at the start of the year and the ultimate goal was to win a Christy Ring and get back into the Joe McDonagh.
“For the calibre of player we have now, I think this is the strongest panel we've had in the last five years, and lads who were young back in 2016 are now 26/27 and in their prime.
“So we want to get back up to the Joe McDonagh so we can give a good account of ourselves there because last year we felt we waved the white flag a bit too early on last year.”
Meath have made good strides as a hurling county in recent years. Their underage structures are bearing a lot of fruit, and a senior championship boasting 12 clubs would be the envy of many second and third tier hurling counties.
Their foundations are solid, and Geraghty believes now is the time to really start building on them.
“I think Meath have a huge opportunity to grow the game because we have such a high population,” he said.
“What we need are stronger teams in our towns like Navan, Dunboyne and Ashbourne. You see the strides a club like Ratoath have made. They came from intermediate, and, to be honest, I wouldn't be surprised if they won the senior this year.
“They have five lads on the Meath panel this year so they're a club that has really used their population to raise their standard. I'd like to see the other towns do something similar.
“Hurling is popular in traditional areas like Trim and the surrounding areas, but in order to grow the game then it's hugely important we branch out into the areas that have seen a huge population increase.
“That's what will bring the game to the next level in the county.”
That process could be accelerated if the county senior team could Saturday’s Final and go on to consolidate themselves as a force in the Joe McDonagh Cup from next year.
“Yeah, you need something tangible,” said Geraghty. “The reality is that we're now in the third tier when it comes to hurling. In order to push on and have a flag-ship team for kids to aspire to we really need to push on.
“If we can do that then we might see the rewards of it ten years down the line. If the kids have a team they can look up to, that are in Croke Park, that are competing against teams like Westmeath and Laois, and are playing a quality brand of hurling, then it'll drive them on.
“We saw the buzz created a couple of years ago (when Meath won the Christy Ring Cup in 2016) and we want that again. We want to get back up to the second tier and push it on and have a flagship team for kids to look up to.
“It would be nice to have a cup they can celebrate on Saturday evening.”
Meath are warm favourites to beat Down in tomorrow's final, but Geraghty isn't taking their challenge for granted against a team that has scored an impressive 13-82 in their four matches todate in the competition.
"They got seven goals against Donegal and three the last day against Roscommon. We didn't create one goal chance against Roscommon in Athleague in the group stages.
"So for them to score three and, going by the video, they created a few others too, is impressive.
"We are under no illusions about the challenge they'll bring. When I started off with Meath we could never beat Down.
"I think that's still there, that we have huge respect for Down. We won't be underestimating them."