Depleted Meath face defensive quandary
Meath have a potential defensive crisis on their hands, with the preferred choices for the two central positions both doubtful ahead of Sunday's Leinster Championship opener against Offaly in Portlaoise.
Cormac McGuinness, the team's centre-back for much of last year's championship, is almost certainly ruled out with a recurrence of a hamstring injury.
He played with his club, Navan O'Mahony's, over two weeks ago and aggravated an injury that seriously curtailed his involvement in the league.
Kevin Reilly, the probable choice for full-back, is also a worry after sustaining a hamstring injury in training over the weekend.
However manager Eamonn O'Brien insists that no firm decision will be made until Thursday night.
Reilly has played little football for Meath in the last two years because of a persistent back injury that eventually required surgery.
In his absence, Meath have struggled the fill the void at full-back, with Anthony Moyles providing a stop-gap solution for most of last season, and efforts to find a replacement not succeeding during the league. For the majority of league games, Niall McKeigue slotted in at No 3 but an acute hamstring injury has effectively ended his season.
O'Brien still hopes that Reilly can play a part. "We haven't ruled him out. We'll see at training tonight and finalise a decision later in the week," he said yesterday.
Jamie Queeney, who made an impact earlier in the season, and Brian Sheridan, man of the match for DCU in the Sigerson Cup final in February, are both ruled out because of ankle and hamstring injuries respectively.
Nigel Crawford is expected to be partnered by Mark Ward at midfield. Ward has regained some form after spending much of last season on the periphery.
Shane O'Rourke also looks set to start his first championship match since the 2007 All-Ireland semi final against Cork when he was just 19. The forward has been blighted by injury in the intervening seasons but has got a few games under his belt in the league.
O'Brien was a selector to Sean Boylan when Offaly turned over the then All-Ireland champions a decade ago and is mindful of the difficulty they always present.
"Like ourselves they lost some league games narrowly and were probably unlucky not to be promoted," he said.
Offaly have no injury worries ahead of the fixture but manager Tom Cribbin does have concerns over the weekend confusion over the handpass rule and has urged a "common sense" approach from referees.
"Referees have to use a bit of cop-on. If guys are playing with the right intention and they're trying to make proper handpasses, they need to use common sense a bit more. If this continues, you wouldn't even watch the game on TV," he said.
Cribbin revealed that he has accepted an offer from Croke Park yesterday for a visit by a referee to their training session tonight to illustrate the 'dos and don'ts' of the controversial rule.
Offaly attacker David Egan has the cast off his foot after breaking a bone but is unlikely to be rushed into the action, while Niall McNamee has shaken off a knock to his thigh.
McNamee has been in superb form in the league and Cribbin feels that his presence generates confidence among those around him. "When we're on form we're buzzing," he said.
Cribbin took time out to watch Meath in a recent challenge against Galway and was taken by the size of the team that night at the pitch opening in Summerhill.
"They were tall and strong and even the players who came on that night were of the same stature," he noted.
"It's a very difficult test for us but we have experienced players back playing for us like Scott Brady who missed last year and that should help."