O'Rourke expects 'extra bite' to Meath clash
IT was only last April that Louth condemned Meath to Division 3 football in what was the latest chapter in a story that has picked up pace since the infamous 2010 Leinster final.
Previously, this rivalry was largely one-way traffic, with the Royals inventing new and cruel ways to snatch victory from Louth, but now it's on a much more even footing.
Neither side have flourished since that Croke Park encounter. Meath haven't looked anything like the side that made an All-Ireland semi-final in 2009 and Mick O'Dowd is their fifth manager in the seven years since Sean Boylan left.
Louth, too, have struggled. They couldn't recover from the defeat that cost them their first Leinster title in 53 years. Last year, they lost heavily to Dublin in the province before bowing out to Westmeath in the qualifiers.
Last spring's success offered some measure of revenge for the Wee men as they took a deserved nine-point win against a Meath side that finished with 13 men and were relegated to Division 3. There's certainly plenty of local pride at stake.
After tonight, it is unlikely that they'll meet again this year. The sides will play in different divisions in the league while Meath would have to win away to the winners of Wicklow and Longford and Louth need to beat both Laois and Wexford to set up a Leinster semi-final showdown.
It seems a long shot that both sides would come through those games still standing and there is no guarantee the qualifiers would pair them. So if there are scores to be settled, then under the lights in Pairc Tailteann might be the only place for it.
There is likely to be a significant turnover in personnel from the sides that handed their new managers wins in their first outings as inter-county managers, but Louth boss Aidan O'Rourke still expects an edge to tonight's game.
"It's a Meath-Louth game so you'd expect it to have a little bit extra," said the Armagh man. "They have plenty of history so that'll add a bit of bite to it.
"In saying that, it's early in the year. I haven't seen too much of Meath other than the scoreline against Longford and you can probably expect both teams to make plenty of changes."
This is O'Rourke's first taste of inter-county management, having acted as coach with Kieran McGeeney in Kildare last year. Before that, he replaced Paddy Tally in James McCartan's Down back-room team.
The Queen's University GAA development officer joins fellow defenders from Armagh's 2002 breakthrough side McGeeney and Laois boss Justin McNulty into inter-county management.
"Moving from coaching to management is a bit different. Up to now, it's been about getting the right structures in place, but from here on, I hope to get a bit more hands-on with coaching," he said.
The proximity of his home club, Dromintee, to Louth was an advantage of the job, as was the decision of some of the key performers of recent seasons to return to the panel, including Brian White, Colm Judge and John O'Brien.