Meath want to be play­ing Dublin, we don’t think we’re too far away – Tobin

Irish Independent - - Sport | Gaelic Games - Frank Roche

ALL go­ing well on that per­ilous pan­demic front, Meath foot­ballers’ first game back on the in­ter-county carousel will be against Dublin in Croke Park on the week­end of Oc­to­ber 17/18.

A game that Meath would pre­fer had never been resched­uled, Seán Tobin can now ad­mit.

But this has noth­ing to do with fear of the blue jug­ger­naut. Rather, hav­ing spent so many years striv­ing to get back into Di­vi­sion 1, only to have in­stant rel­e­ga­tion con­firmed with two rounds still to play, the all-en­velop­ing grip of Covid-19 had thrown open the pos­si­bil­ity that this year’s Al­lianz League would be de­clared null and void.

And that would have been a blessed re­lief to the Roy­als.

“We all were kind of hop­ing and pray­ing that would hap­pen,” Tobin con­cedes, “but I don’t think the GAA were go­ing to al­low that. We were for a while, we were lick­ing our lips.”

Put bluntly, to be re­born as gen­uine chal­lengers to Dublin, Meath need top-flight foot­ball.

This was their first year back among the elite since 2006 – even then, the top tier com­prised 16 teams, split into Di­vi­sions 1A and 1B – and they’d love to have stayed there.

As Tobin ex­plains: “In Di­vi­sion 1, we all kind of re­alised that you’re prob­a­bly not go­ing to be win­ning Al­lIre­lands in Di­vi­sion 2. You have to be in Di­vi­sion 1 if you’ve any as­pi­ra­tions of win­ning All-Ire­land ti­tles or Le­in­ster ti­tles.

“You just have to be play­ing against the big boys. That’s just the way it is. Their S&C, their stan­dard of fit­ness, their ruth­less­ness, ev­ery­thing . . . I sup­pose that’s what we learned and that’s what we want to do.”

Tobin was back on the cham­pi­onship beat on Sun­day – this time help­ing Si­mon­stown Gaels to a six-point vic­tory over Skryne in their Meath SFC round-robin opener.

It’s “bril­liant” to be back play­ing, he en­thuses. “It just gives ev­ery­one a

great and third Back-to-back ’17, ti­tle lift Si­mon­stown’s dur­ing won’t cham­pi­ons be a tough easy quest with time.” in for hold­ers 2016 a Ra­toath one ad­vanc­ing also in to their the group semi-fi­nals. and just

“We came back af­ter lock­down and weren’t go­ing overly well, we were try­ing hard but noth­ing was hap­pen­ing for us,” Tobin re­flects. “Moy­nalvey beat us in the league, Kells beat us . . . but we knew if we kept at it and just worked hard (we’d be OK).”

While club as­pi­ra­tions are now para­mount, Tobin re­tains one eye on au­tumn and a re­drafted in­ter-county sea­son. There, the am­bi­tion will be to ar­rest Meath’s cur­rent los­ing streak – eight on the spin.

It doesn’t help when their first game back is that league clash with Dublin, who crushed the Roy­als by 1-17 to 0-4 in last year’s Le­in­ster fi­nal.

Yet Tobin is adamant that morale has not suf­fered.

“To be hon­est, it’s not some­thing that would ever come up in meet­ings,” the 29-year-old says.

“We do look at the Dubs . . . like, if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. We never would fear them go­ing into games. Look, they’ve given us a fair hid­ing over the last cou­ple of years, but we don’t think we’re too far away. The score last year in the Le­in­ster fi­nal, I don’t think it was a true re­flec­tion of our ef­forts. They kicked away in the sec­ond half but in the first half it was very tight.

“If we can build on that, build up our fit­ness, maybe just be a bit more ruth­less up top, I don’t think we’re too far away. We wouldn’t fear them ev­ery year, we want to be play­ing Dublin, we don’t want to shy away from that.

“Andy McEn­tee has drilled it into us that we’re im­prov­ing ev­ery year. And you just have to be­lieve. If I’m go­ing into a Meath set-up in the cold nights of Novem­ber and think­ing, ‘We’re go­ing to be beat by Dublin in May,’ sure what’s the point? You have to be­lieve that you’re go­ing to get there – and there is great be­lief in the camp.”

Their Su­per 8s bap­tism of fire last sum­mer re­flected both progress and on­go­ing prob­lems: Meath were right in con­tention against Done­gal, Mayo and Kerry at the three-quar­ter mark, but ul­ti­mately lost all three by a cu­mu­la­tive 26 points. “It was just a bit of ex­pe­ri­ence and a bit of cute­ness that prob­a­bly beat us in the end,” Tobin reck­ons.

“I’d love an­other sea­son in Di­vi­sion 1; I think you’d see a dif­fer­ent Meath team. That ex­pe­ri­ence un­der your belt would do you the world of good.

“Again, we’re prob­a­bly go­ing back to Di­vi­sion 2. We’d like to think we’ll come up out of Di­vi­sion 2 again and you might see a dif­fer­ent Meath team in Di­vi­sion 1 in the fu­ture.”

He ac­cepts that fin­ish­ing out an al­ready doomed league cam­paign will be “strange for us” but he re­mains up­beat about the straight knock­out cham­pi­onship that fol­lows, with Meath fac­ing Wex­ford or Wick­low in a Le­in­ster quar­ter-fi­nal while Dublin are lo­cated on the other half of the draw.

“We can just at­tack those (league) games and then try and give the cham­pi­onship a serious rat­tle,” he says. “Look, the top teams are go­ing to be very tough ‘bet’ but I sup­pose ev­ery­one feels this year, with the way it’s run, that you might just have a bet­ter chance than nor­mal years.

“And Meath are com­ing. I know we’re gone down, but I thought we were un­lucky in a cou­ple of the games in Di­vi­sion 1. The last ten min­utes prob­a­bly just did us. So, if we can im­prove on those last ten min­utes, I think we’ll have a good run in the cham­pi­onship.”

Ide­ally, given the un­prece­dented cir­cum­stances, Tobin would have “loved to see an open draw”. But he re­mains san­guine about the fu­ture for the sleep­ing Royal gi­ant.

“Dublin have been so strong and I sup­pose for the rest of us, we’ve been kind of play­ing a bit of catch-up. But I do be­lieve we are start­ing to, slowly but surely, fill the gap,” he says.

“And I do think, in years to come, you’ll see the likes of Meath and maybe the other teams in Le­in­ster – Kil­dare, West­meath – get­ting closer to Dublin.

“Look, they’re a fan­tas­tic team, the great­est team in his­tory, but you can’t stay at the top for­ever. And that’s what we’ll be hop­ing.”

RAM­SEY CARDY/SPORTS­FILE

Sean Tobin of Si­mon­stown Gaels com­mis­er­ates Niall Fin­nerty of Skryne af­ter their Meath SFC clash on Sun­day

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