Sheridan stars in new role to give O'Dowd ideal start
MICK O'Dowd has made no secret that he will be giving youth its fling in Meath this year and several Royal rookies gave their new boss an early reward for that faith in Ballymahon.
The final scoreline of this Bord na Mona O'Byrne Cup opener somewhat flatters the home side, because Meath were much the better team for most of this dogfight, played out in typically difficult new-year conditions.
All but one of their scores – Damien Carroll's 22nd minute penalty – came from play and while it looked at half-time as if their three-point lead (1-6 to 1-3) might not be enough against a stiff wind, they were able to hang tough and hold out.
"We were looking for a high work-rate and a high desire from guys to wear the Meath jersey and I think we saw that," O'Dowd said.
He's the fifth man to take on the high-pressure Meath job in seven years and some of his new choices made a mark first day out. But, not for the first time, it was Joe Sheridan who laid the platform for victory and his position – at midfield – was one of the big talking points among the considerable crowd who turned out for their long-awaited first football fix of the new season.
This wasn't the first time Big Joe has played centre-field, but O'Dowd's decision to give him a 'central' role right from the off has already raised speculation that it could be a permanent position for him in the coming year.
The new manager stressed afterwards that he wouldn't restrict the Seneschalstown giant to any one position at this stage.
Yet he couldn't hide his satisfaction with what he saw as Sheridan dominated the centre for the first 45 minutes and delivered long balls forward with his trademark vision and accuracy.
"You wouldn't tie Joe down to one place, but I thought he did well there today," O'Dowd said. "We probably are scarce enough on midfielders at the moment and we'll be blooding a few young players there as well as back-up."
The slippery conditions were certainly conducive to letting the ball do the work, but O'Dowd (pictured below) indicated that he won't be over-complicating things in the coming year.
"The traditional Meath style is how we'd like to play," he said. "You can't always do that, but the important thing is to just get fellas to think on their feet and think and do things quickly."
New Meath wing-backs Stephen Crosbie and Cormac Rowe certainly caught the eye. Rowe (from the Syddan club) contained Sean McCormack to one score from play while Crosbie (Drumconrath) got upfield to score two points from play.
Corner-back Caolan Young also did well in a Meath defence that harried and blocked exceptionally well in the wet conditions.
Davy Dalton also did a good job on his recall, while Caoimhin King also made his comeback, coming off the bench for Donal Keogan after the full-back picked up a concussion, and Jamie Queeney did particularly well up front.
In fairness, Longford, who will be playing in a higher league than Meath this year (Division 2) after consecutive promotions under Glenn Ryan, were pretty depleted. They were not only without the injured Barden brothers and Declan O'Reilly, who has had a hip operation, but largely rested their U-21s after Saturday's impressive Hastings Cup victory over Roscommon.
They were boosted with an early goal when Donal McElligott fisted in a Kevin Diffley cross after just 15 minutes, but, seven minutes later goalkeeper, Paddy Collum was judged to have foot-blocked Paddy Gilsenan when trying to save and Carroll slotted the ensuing penalty to put Meath back in front and they kicked on to go in three points up at the interval.
But full-back Barry Gilleran, wing-back Shane Mulligan and midfielder Michael Brady really got Longford back in the game in the second half and, if they had not been so profligate in the final quarter, things could have been different.
Apart from McCormack and Francis McGee, they struggled to take their chances early on and, even with the wind, spurned multiple chances to steal the game in the late stages, kicking 10 wides in the second half.
But manager Ryan was not too worried by their score-shyness.
"It was a low-scoring game, but at this time of year we have no kicking done and today was the first chance we got to shoot at the goals so far – so it's not an area we would be particularly worried about," he said. "It was a very competitive game and I'd say both teams got plenty out of it."
Meath play Louth and Longford play UCD in the second round on Wednesday night.
Scorers – Meath: D Carroll 1-0 pen, S Crosbie J Queeney, M Newman 0-2 each, C Rowe, P Gilsenan, P Byrne 0-1 each. Longford: D McElligott 1-1, S McCormack 0-4f, F McGee, JJ Matthews 0-1 each.
Meath – D Lyons; C Young, D Keogan, D Dalton; C Rowe, E Harrington, S Crosbie; G Reilly, J Sheridan; P Gilsenan, D Carroll, J Queeney; D McDonagh, P Byrne, M Newman. Subs : C King for Keogan (h-t), B Farrell for McDonagh (35), M Collins for Gilsenan (35), B Sheridan for Reilly (60), S Curran for Young (68).
Longford – P Collum; P Foy, B Gilleran, F Battrim; S Mulligan, K Diffley, C P Smyth; J Keegan, N Brady; S Doyle, A Rowan, S McCormack; JJ Matthews, D McElligott, F McGee. Subs: B McElvaney for Doyle (47), C Quaine for Keegan (52).
Ref – P Kneel (Louth).