After a number of years in relative wilderness, Meath stepped out of the shadows in 2019 to announce themselves as a force in Gaelic football once more.
The Royals won six of their seven Allianz Football League games en route to a Division 2 final appearance that resulted in promotion to Division 1 for the first time in 13 seasons.
The six-time All-Ireland winners carried that stellar form into the Championship where they qualified for a Leinster final before going on to feature in the Super 8s. It was a standout year for Meath which was encapsulated by their joint-captain Donal Keogan earning an All-Star nomination, a nomination that many (including this parish) felt should have been rewarded.
The Rathkenny man was in swashbuckling form for the Royals in 2019, consistently marauding up the field from right half-back to add an extra dynamic to the Meath attack. Keogan has been a member of the county panel since 2012, however, he admits himself that 2019 was the most enjoyable season to date.
“Yeah, I think that’s fair to say. It was really enjoyable.
“Previously league campaigns hadn’t always gone to plan so that had always been frustrating on a personal and a team level. Every year we felt we were probably good enough to qualify out of Division 2, but Division 2 is so competitive that one game or one result here and there, the wrong result can actually scupper your chances to get out of the division because it’s so competitive.
“Last year we were lucky that results went our way, we lost one game out of seven. It was really enjoyable. Then the team carried that form into the championship.”
As stated, Keogan’s form saw himself, fellow captain Bryan Menton and full-back Conor McGill all nominated for All-Star awards.
The Meath man admits that not only has the nomination helped his confidence levels but it has also made him hungrier for the 2020 season.
Keogan also admits that it has helped inspire the team as a whole as it has opened the eyes of other members of the squad to the possibilities that exist when playing for your county.
“It did and it almost made me hungrier for this year. It’s nice to get the recognition but the team is the number one thing in the whole set-up.
“Other lads were eager to get back to training and push the performances. Three of us got nominated, I think that opened other lads’ eyes to say, ‘Why not me next year?’ The vibe since we came back has been really good and lads are pushing really hard. I think the All-Star nomination for me personally, and Bryan and Conor, it’s more than that.
“It goes to show for other lads in the set-up that the opportunities are there. If we put in the performances that we can, it could be any number of us this year.”
On to this year and although Meath are struggling for points upon their return to Division 1, Keogan admits they are still in a better place than they were 12 months ago.
Having top-tier football week in, week out has helped the side to improve and Keogan hopes it will stand to them later in the year.
“Compared to this time last year we definitely are in a better place.
“The overall and overarching trend is that we are improving. It has been an almost step-way improvement, getting out of Division 2, then the Super 8s, they have all been building on each other.
“Now Division 1 football week in, week out is improving. I hope that it will stand to us. Okay, whatever happens at the end of the year whether we stay up or go down I definitely think we will be in a better position towards the end of the League than we were last year.”
They may be down but they are not out. Meath face Galway at Páirc Tailteann this weekend knowing that a win over the high-flying Tribesmen could flip their season on its head.
“Galway seem to be flying well at the minute, top of Division 1, 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.”