Much has changed in the past 174 days – and even more has changed in the past two days as since this preview was written the Meath’s O’Byrne Cup match with Wicklow has since been postponed, but the manager Andy McEntee always has insightful opinions on the competition.
Since then, the spirits of Meath’s football fraternity have been sparked by the success across Ireland for minors and seniors in the county and with this renewed optimism 2022 looks bright.
Covid restrictions have come and gone and the country is currently at the height of the pandemic, yet the future looks green and gold.
Andy McEntee led his Meath players for the last time in battle on July 18, 2021 against Dublin in the Leinster SFC semi-finals and although the first half did not go as planned, there were enough shoots green in the second period to offer new hope.
Over the next five and a half months, the more some people tried to initiate change, the more others want things to stay the same, so despite the best intentions to sharpen the scene between the counties and the make it more attractive, the O’Byrne Cup remains an unnecessary competition on the calendar.
Meath McEntee’s manager is also puzzled as to why the GAA feels there is a need to persist with the O’Byrne Cup, especially in these times of Covid, which luckily haven’t hit the Royals too much.
“I don’t know what the goal is for anyone with the O’Byrne Cup,” McEntee told The Meath Chronicle.
“For all the talk about change, and everyone is hungry for change, here we are back to where we were. Everything is the same and we crash into an O’Byrne Cup.
“Our goal is to try to give as many guys as possible playing time as possible. If it’s okay with us to play it, we’ll play it, if it doesn’t suit us, we won’t play.
“We’re squashing three games before the league starts, and it’s that time of year when colleges are trying to prepare for the Sigerson Cup, so that’s a problem too.
“It doesn’t make sense to bring 30 players to these games, so we’ll try to figure it out as best we can. We’ll have to wait and see who’s available on any given day and we’ll pick our team from that.
“The O’Byrne Cup is not really our goal. In all fairness we are trying to prepare for the start of the league. It has been tough but the guys have been very good overall.
“We haven’t been hit too hard by Covid and the restrictions in recent weeks. The guys are doing everything they can to stay safe, the medical team has been great, Dualtach (MacColgain, team doctor Meath) was very good with instructions for the guys.
“When we get together we all do our own antigen tests and release it to the doctor and if anyone has symptoms, they stay away.
Of the 35 guys we trained, we only had four that weren’t available last week due to close contact, which isn’t too bad.
“Talking to other county managers, I guess it is proving difficult across the country.”
With cases reaching unprecedented numbers, McEntee fears the GAA season may be affected, but he also hopes the GAA will have a plan to deal with any potential outbreaks and disruption.
“You would like to think the GAA has a contingency plan. You can see what’s going on with professional football and rugby, they’ve been hit hard and couldn’t continue,” Meath’s boss warned.
“We would be naive to think that at one point or another it won’t hit a county team somewhere along the line.”
Those fears aside, McEntee is eager to return to the sidelines.
Seamus Lavin is the only notable absentee from last year’s panel with the Dunboyne man gone to Canada for a year.
McEntee has added Billy Hogan of Longwood, Saran O Fionnagain of Wolfe Tones, James O’Hare of Rathkenny and Gavin McGowan of Ratoath to his panel, but the core of the group remains intact with plenty of experience ahead of what is sure to be a tough league. .
“We’re going to start in the league at a very high level, at Galway and at home in Roscommon, the two teams that were relegated from Div 1 last year, so it’s a tough start,” admitted McEntee.
“The league is extremely important to us. We want to play against the best, we will approach it the same way we always approach it, we want to win as many games as possible and see where that takes us.
“Of course we look forward to it, these are great games. We’ve always said the league is the best competition because these are great games and we can’t wait to try to keep going.
“You would like to improve on the performance in the second half that we showed against Dublin and eliminate the first half. We are always trying to improve,” concluded the manager of Meath who will face Wicklow at Bray Emmets on Saturday next (2 p.m.) before traveling. at Stradbally to face Laois on Wednesday January 12 (7:30 p.m.) then Wexford at Navan on Saturday January 15. Meath will open his NFL Div 2 campaign in Galway in Salthill on Sunday, January 30 at 2 p.m. ET.