Royals facing injury headaches ahead of Wicklow showdown
Published 09/06/2015 | 02:30
Meath are facing something of an injury crisis heading into Sunday's Leinster Championship quarter-final clash with manager Mick O'Dowd expecting to be without five first team players.
Among those on the treatment table for the game against Wicklow include former captain Kevin Reilly, who has been dogged by hip trouble over the past number of seasons.
Reilly underwent surgery late last year but that has done little to relieve the issue as he was forced to abort a comeback during the league.
"He came back and played against Roscommon and the Down game but it stiffened up a lot and games were coming one after another," O'Dowd said.
"So he didn't play against Cavan. He played the first round of the club championship but it stiffened up again. He knew that that wasn't really sustainable, playing a game and then spending a week to ten days kind of not being able to do anything."
The Meath boss, who is in his third year in charge of the county's footballers, admits he is planning without the Navan O'Mahonys full-back.
"Kevin has given such service to Meath, he's such an incredible fella inside the Meath dressing room, it's as much hoping he can come back for himself.
"But in terms of us I'd be kind of looking at him as a bonus if he was back playing rather than checking in before every game to see if he's right."
Reilly's absence is compounded by the fact that Bryan Menton, Mickey Newman and Shane O'Rourke are all in casts with hand injuries and all three are set to miss Sunday's game.
Another senior player, Conor Gillespie, is also out with knee trouble, bringing to five the number of likely starters the Royals will be without for the showdown.
O'Dowd's initial three-year term comes to an end at the end of this year but after overseeing major change in the panel, he declared himself satisfied with their progress to date.
"I'm really happy with where the team are at, I have to say that. The average age of the team is 23, there was a huge amount of change from the first list of players that I got - there are probably only eight or nine of them still there since 2013.
"I think there are seven U-21s in the 30 this year and a few lads who have just gone out of U-21s. There has been a lot of change and if you look at any of the really top six teams, their key men are in that age bracket of 24 to 29."
Despite such a significant turnover in the squad, the Royals will be expected to beat Wicklow and see off the challenge of either Westmeath or Wexford to set up a third successive Leinster final with Dublin.
"I'd imagine the reality is that everybody on the other side to Dublin are seeing this as an opportunity to get to a Leinster final," O'Dowd said.
"Our only focus is the first round of the championship, 100pc. June 14 has been locked in for us all year, it's in Navan, the first home game there in 20 years, so all we'd be focusing on is that."