Stability at the core of Meath's solid progress under O'Dowd – Reilly
Published 17/07/2014 | 02:30
Kevin Reilly senses calm and stability in Meath football that he has rarely experienced before.
There have been times in the past when he has got that feeling but rarely has it lingered.
The highs have too often been followed by extreme lows, the sharp descent of failure and controversy quickly diluting any sense of progress achieved. On step forward, two steps back.
The success of beating Tyrone in the 2007 All-Ireland quarter-final was followed by a 10-point defeat to Cork and subsequent championship collapses to Wexford and Limerick in 2008.
Just when it looked like Eamonn O'Brien had brought that stability they craved, he was effectively dismissed by the County Board despite being the only Leinster championship-winning manager since Sean Boylan.
There have been the controversies on Eamonn Barry's year-long watch in 2006, the fallout from the Leinster final in 2010 and the protracted unease among some during Seamus McEnaney's two-year stretch.
A lot for one career, even one that is stretching into a ninth championship season.
"Being involved, you see a different dynamic. I've always said that stability is key. We've hit some highs, we've got to two All-Ireland semi-finals and won a Leinster under previous managers and they were doing a lot right too," reflected the 28-year-old captain.
"Unfortunately, when the lows came and they (managers) moved or were moved on, it lacked stability. That's key for any team to evolve from where they are.
"They need a little bit of time and a little bit of stability. I think we have that now.
"There has been a dramatic change at (County Board) committee level, there has been obviously a change with Micko (O'Dowd) and his back-room team coming on.
"Everybody's pointing in the right direction and I think we're moving forward," he suggested.
Sean Boylan gave Reilly his debut for the 2005 Leinster quarter-final defeat to Dublin and since then the province has essentially been in lockdown to everyone else bar Dublin, the only break being that controversial 2010 victory over Louth.
Reilly is adamant that he "cherishes" his only Leinster medal despite the controversy, accepting the existence of a "cloud" over it nonetheless.
"They don't come along too often, and they're not easily obtained, so I'm going to say I do cherish it. It's the only Leinster medal that I have and I'm going to hold on to it! I'd hold it very highly.
"We put a serious amount of effort into that Leinster championship. Okay, there is a little bit of a cloud in the manner (of the victory) but these things, these incidents happen nearly every couple of games in GAA. I'm not saying it's right.
"In the All-Ireland semi-final of the same year between Kildare and Down, Benny Coulter scored a goal that shouldn't have been allowed and it was forgotten about an hour or two afterwards.
"The analysis picked it up and pointed it out but after that it was 'we get on with these things'.
"I think a lot of fuss was made about it, and at the time the way it happened it was very dramatic, but you just have to get on with it."
For Reilly, the added bonus from this season so far is the injury-free period he has enjoyed. Between back and Achilles injuries predominantly, he has never completed a full league campaign, but is enjoying the benefits of that now.
"It's nearly the first season of 10 that I've played a whole National League. A few minor setbacks but it's great to be injury free and just to be enjoying football because when you are injured it does take its toll both mentally and physically. You can't just get to a level that you would like to be at or know you're good enough for."
The Navan O'Mahony's stalwart believes this Meath team are playing a "selfless" brand of football under O'Dowd. "We are trying to build a consistency within the squad. For years we had the potential to win any game but the next game we might go out and be beaten.
"We just weren't consistent and I think consistency is key for further development and progress. As long as we are getting results I'm happy.
"It seems to be a selfless brand of football which is very important. It doesn't happen all too often where lads are willing to give their best for the greater good."
Reilly accepts that one win and a draw from seven championship meetings in his time as a Meath footballer is a record that needs urgent rebalancing.
"It's been a little bit top-heavy in my time. We have only beaten them once. We will be doing our absolute best. We are very confident in our own ability, we are trying to prepare as best we can," he said.
"These opportunities don't come around too often. We've been fortunate enough to contest three out of four Leinster finals in the last few years but before that we didn't get near, we didn't get close.
"You definitely have to give it absolutely everything you have for as long as you have that opportunity because you don't know when the next one is going to come.
"There are quite a few young guys who have plenty more years ahead of them but who's to say they are going to be spent contesting Leinster finals. It just doesn't happen like that. You do have to seize the moment."