If the club delegates of Meath endorse Wednesday night’s bombshell decision of their county board executive, then Andy McEntee’s oscillating and occasionally turbulent five years at the Royal football coalface will be at an end.
nd if that indeed is the case, then it’s reasonable to conclude that his fifth season neatly summed up the McEntee era.
They played six league and championship games, winning three, losing three. But, invariably, it was the must-win games – the ones that could have steered Meath football to a higher plane – that ended in defeat.
And those losses were classics of the ‘what if?’ genre. Why didn’t they start playing against Kildare (in their Division 2 promotion play-off last June) or against Dublin (in their Leinster semi-final last July) until it was almost too late?
McEntee himself was leading the chorus of regret on each occasion.
That league showdown in Newbridge was vital for a team that had only survived one fraught year in the top-flight and craved an instant return.
Yet after 54 minutes, they trailed by 1-13 to 0-6, playing a timorous second best to gung-ho Lilies.
The subsequent comeback showed some courage in adversity, and incredibly, they almost forced an equalising goal in the death throes of injury-time.
But as McEntee ruefully noted afterwards: “Kildare were definitely at championship physicality. Unfortunately, I don’t think we matched them until it was probably too late, and even then, we could have snatched something.”
Five weeks later, it was more of the same. After a decent first quarter against Dublin, they were blown away in the second. The half-time deficit stood at 11 points and, with the six-in-a-row All-Ireland champions showing a fluency that otherwise eluded them for most of the summer, you feared that last year’s record 21-point defeat to the old enemy might even be eclipsed.
Instead, with nothing to lose except already-battered pride, Meath applied some belated pressure. In a scarcely believable transformation, Dublin’s lead was trimmed to just three points by the 68th minute.
Shaken and stirred, the Dubs won by six.
“The second half was fantastic, but why give a team like Dublin an 11-point lead?” McEntee wondered aloud afterwards. “You’re not giving yourself much of a chance … but the commitment was huge, the execution was good and skill level was good. We just left ourselves with a bit much to do.”
Another case of too little, too late.
You got the clear sense, in Croke Park that evening, that the man who led Ballyboden St Enda’s to All-Ireland club success in 2016 had every intention of carrying on in his obsessive pursuit of restoring Meath football to lost glories.
He had been granted a second three-year term in 2019, with a review after two seasons; that review appears to have scuppered his chances of building on the flickering promise of the second half against the Dubs.
The fact the Meath management committee last night voted 8-7 against McEntee serving out a sixth season suggests two things: firstly, that opinion is split among the hierarchy, but it also suggests a certain groundswell for change.
It’s understood that this was the first executive meeting held ‘in person’ since the Covid-19 pandemic invaded our shores and wreaked havoc with the lives of everyone, inter-county managers included.
With no comment forthcoming from the executive, it is still unclear when a full county board meeting will be called, and delegates have the right to either endorse this recommendation or vote in favour of the incumbent.
Will that meeting be ‘in person’, given the significance of such a vote? Or will it even come to that?
McEntee’s next step – whether he resigns quietly or fights his corner – will shape the narrative but, having lost the support of Meath GAA’s top brass, it’s hard to escape the suspicion that his tenure is now bordering on the untenable.
On the flip side, given that next Sunday will be 12 weeks since Meath exited the Leinster championship, it’s only reasonable to ask why it has taken them so long to conclude a review that ends with a recommendation for change?
The vast majority of counties have their 2022 managers in situ. Now Meath may have to start searching in mid-October with no obvious successor in sight.
If this is game over for Andy, he will depart with a record that reads played 52, won 24, drew three and lost 25 – a virtual 50-50 split. His team have won nine championship fixtures but lost ten. With Dublin so dominant, he was never likely to lift championship silverware … but their struggles extended further.
Perhaps the biggest indictment is that Meath never overcame a Division 1 outfit on his watch. In their one campaign among the elite, 2020, they lost six on the spin before drawing with Monaghan. Any time they faced a championship opponent who had played top-flight football that season (Dublin in each of the last three years, Donegal in 2017, Tyrone in 2018, Mayo and Kerry in the 2019 Super 8s), they came up short.
This year’s All-Ireland minor breakthrough offers hope of a new dawn for Meath … just as the sun appears to be setting on McEntee’s senior dream.