Twenty years on, Giles tracks Meath football's upward curve
Promotion back to league's elite and questions about Dublin create sense of possibility
Meath’s Cillian O’Sullivan tussles with Tyrone’s Colm Cavanagh during last year’s All-Ireland qualifier at Páirc Tailteann. Meath came very close to dumping out the eventual All-Ireland finalists. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Twenty long years on from Meath’s last All-Ireland, its orchestrator and 1999 Footballer of the Year Trevor Giles at last has some positive developments to review. The recent league has seen the county regain a place in Division One for the first time since 2006.
The achievement followed an encouraging, if brief, 2018 championship in which a potentially shattering defeat by Longford was set aside by a furious display in Páirc Tailteann, where eventual All-Ireland finalists Tyrone nearly crashed out of the qualifiers but eventually staggered through an immense, extra-time-prolonged contest.
Looking at the confidence with which Meath navigated a tricky Division Two campaign, the question arose as to what happened to the county to cause it to fall away so dramatically from the top levels of the game.
Speaking at the launch of Beko’s equipment grant scheme in conjunction with Leinster Council, Giles, who has also served as a selector in recent years, believes that decline started with inattention to development work.
“I do think the underage was neglected, big time. The fact that we won the minor All-Irelands in 1990 and 1992, were in the final in ’93, the people involved in those teams did great work but it probably gave the impression that there was great work being done all around the place.
“I think there was just a good crop of players that came through in those teams, it maybe gave people the wrong impression.”
Tradition also died hard in Meath and modern tactical trends weren’t always welcome.
“I suppose to a certain extent there was not moving with the times as well. Meath would have been very much ‘kick it in long’ and the players should be there to win it. The game had changed and Meath were slow to adapt to that.
“A little bit even now if you see the lads passing it around in defence the patience among the supporters is wearing thin and they’re shouting, ‘Will ya kick it!’ Other counties embraced change and modernised more than Meath.”
The county’s status is constantly stalked by the presence of the most successful Dublin team in history and this year the counties are drawn to meet in the Leinster final. Giles sees reasons for hope in the champions’ season to date and says people are talking about it.
“They’re wondering, ‘Have Dublin come back a little bit?’ Maybe they have, maybe they haven’t. Maybe other teams have moved on. We just haven’t seen that in other years, Dublin losing three league games.
“Look at Con O’Callaghan playing with UCD and losing a Sigerson semi-final, look at Paul Mannion and Cian O’Sullivan losing a Leinster club final. So some Dublin players are starting to experience defeat. Maybe they’re human after all!
“Then it may fuel them too. You could argue either way. Those are just things that didn’t happen in other years. I think the general public are excited with the championship this year, they see it as being more open than other years.”
The introduction of the trial championship structure with its round-robin matches in the All-Ireland quarter-finals has intensified the desirability of reaching the last eight with its round of matches and a guaranteed home fixture against one of the top teams in the country.
He agrees that getting to that stage is the next step in the process for Meath.
“I think that has to be the goal, yeah; I think Super 8s has to be. It wouldn’t be easy. There’s probably six or seven of those places locked up. but in terms of the last two places Meath have to be in the conversation along with four or five other teams.
“I think in fairness, Andy [McEntee, manager] getting Colm Nally in as coach this year, and I’m not close to the camp, but I think that has been an improvement this year – maybe Andy has been able to step back a little bit.”
Above all, the excitement is back in the county and, Giles believes, in football in general.
“In other years you’d watch your own team play and maybe not a lot of the rest of it because it was predictable enough stuff. This year it’s more interesting, thankfully.”