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Sunday, 16 December, 2018

McEntee's Meath can commence the campaign in style

Meath's Pauric Harnan (green) comes under pressure
1 of 1

Down v Armagh
RTE Two, 2pm Sunday

It is a new era for Meath as they commence a championship campaign under Andy McEntee for the first time and the new boss should have a wide smile on his face as the Royals ought to outclass neighbours Louth at Parnell Park. 

These sides met at the same stage in last year's Leinster championship at the same venue. Meath were successful on a scoreline of 0-20 to 1-13 but the four-point winning margin did not do their superiority justice.

They were 0-18 to 0-11 ahead and in cruise control entering the final ten minutes and it was only a Jim McEnaney goal with six minutes to go that made the final score look less lopsided.

Perhaps Louth have improved since, but Meath definitely have. McEntee has a terrific managerial record, most notably winning an All-Ireland club title with Ballyboden St Enda's and you could see his influence creeping in towards the latter stages on the league. The Royals were unlucky not to be promoted to Division 1.

Since Meath met Louth 12 months ago, Donal Lenihan has established himself as a reliable scoring forward and a top-class free-taker. Graham Reilly helped his club St Colmcille's to an All-Ireland club intermediate final and was made captain, while Bryan Menton has returned to the fold and recaptured some of his best form.

After a deplorable display away to Down in round three, Meath got their act together in the latter stages on the league and registered wins over Galway, Fermanagh and Clare. They drew with Cork but should have won that game as they had three glorious chances to post winning scores in the closing minutes.

Meath scored 11 goals in their seven league games and a Louth defence which leaked 1-14 against Wicklow and conceded 4-89 in Division 3 could struggle to keep a lively Royals attack at bay.

Cillian O'Sullivan is lightning quick and a clinical finisher so simply has to be backed each-way in the first goalscorer market.

Meath have been racking up big scores in challenge matches so it could be worth taking them to get three goals or more.

This is a massive match for Meath and they will treat it like a Leinster final. Defeat would be a big backward step for McEntee and, on all known form, should not happen.

Indeed, Meath could win this game by double figures so a wager on them defying a five-point handicap is advised.

The televised football action comes from Pairc Esler in Newry where Down host Armagh and the visitors make most appeal. 

It has taken legendary player Kieran McGeeney a long time to get his house in order at Armagh but there were encouraging signs in the league and the fact that they managed to score a whopping 15-103 in their seven Division 3 outings is a clear indication of how the Orchard County have evolved in the last few months.

McGeeney seems to have adopted a more attacking approach and Jamie Clarke's return is a massive boost. He has also introduced five newcomers and that is a bonus as they have no memories of Armagh's rotten recent run in Ulster. They will have no fear.

Down somehow managed to escape relegation from Division 2 with vital wins over Meath and Derry ensuring they avoided the drop. But they still don't look like a side who could reach the last eight of the All-Ireland, whereas Armagh are getting there and have far more scope for improvement.

Kildare had a super spring, exploding from the traps with a wide-margin win over Meath in round one and securing promotion to the top flight. But they may have peaked too early and Laois look a big price.

The O'Moore men already have a Leinster win under their belt having accounted for Longford. They scored 4-15 in that 11-point victory and looked dangerous up front.

The Kingston brothers will be hard to handle and Kildare could have their hands full. The Lilywhites certainly don't deserve to be as short as they are.

Meath -5
4pts Evs Betfair, Paddy Power
Meath over 2.5 goals
1pt 7-2 Paddy Power, BoyleSports
C O'Sullivan first goalscorer in Meath v Louth
1pt each-way 7-1 Paddy Power
Armagh -1
2pts 11-8 Paddy Power
1pt 11-4 BoyleSports, Coral, Ladbrokes

After a deplorable display away to Down in round three, Meath got their act together in the latter stages on the league
E.W. Terms
Sky bet