Meath learning valuable lessons
By Cian O'Connell
Donal Keogan is keeping the faith. Despite suffering four Allianz Football League Division One defeats, Keogan believes the Royals have made significant progress in recent years.
It is a source of optimism that Meath are competing in the top tier again with Keogan acknowledging the significance of Sunday's Pairc Tailteann tussle against Galway.
"They've showed really well, they've given Tyrone a bit of a beating there," Keogan says.
"Obviously there were instances in that game that maybe might have swayed the result one way or another.
"But Galway seem to be flying well at the minute, top of Division One, score difference, playing a really nice brand of football, Pádraic Joyce has them there.
"Them coming to Navan, it’s an opportunity for us in our home ground to potentially get a result there. If the result goes your way there that weekend, you can look forward to the next weekend. Potentially four points might do it, six points probably will do it. You’ve three games left, there’s six points on offer there, so obviously it starts with Galway this weekend. It’s a big game."
Keogan, such a distinguished performer for Meath in recent years, admits it is vital for Meath to be operating in these type of high profile fixtures. Being relevant again matters to Meath.
"Yeah, I suppose it was a good few years now without reaching a quarter-final as they were then," Keogan reflects on reaching the last eight of the All Ireland SFC in 2019.
"That was one thing we really targeted last year. After getting out of Division Two, the natural progression was obviously Leinster, deal with Leinster, whatever comes there, but ultimately we had to get to the Super 8s to get that exposure to those Division One teams. I think they were invaluable to us.
"Given you had to pit yourself against the best teams in the country. We had Donegal, Kerry and Mayo. Brilliant teams there to pit yourself against, to see what you’re made of.
"Then also to learn the lessons pre-Division One. It was better to learn the lessons in the Super 8s and having the winter to work on them, rather than going into the first three games of Division One this year and only learning your lessons then.
"So it’s been building nicely and we’ve been learning from the previous games, so that’s continuing this year."
Ensuring emerging Meath footballers play at the highest level possible is critical for the long term development of the game in Meath too according to Keogan.
"It’s huge," Keogan admits. "This year we’ve been unfortunate that we’ve been struck with a few injuries to key players, but you can lament your injuries if you want but you’re not going to get any sympathy for that.
"It’s a matter of the new lads and the younger lads seizing the opportunity. That’s an opportunity for a lad to put their hand up, put their best foot forward, and I think lads have done that really well.
"They’ve come in there, they’ve slotted in seamlessly, it’s an opportunity for them to get Division One football.
"Potentially then the lads coming back from injury, it’s up to them to step up given we’ve had the exposure to Division One games, it’s up to the lads coming back to step up and try push for places again. It’s great. This time last year, not one person on the team had Division One experience.
"That’s one thing that we’ve really learned this year, and that’s something that will really stand to us going forward."