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Coyle calls for a changing of the Royal guard by new manager O'Dowd

WELCOME to Division Three. Or, as the Meath football cognoscenti might mutter, welcome to hell!

But former manager Colm Coyle reckons that, strange as it may seem, it mightn't be the worst place for Mick O'Dowd to set about the rehabilitation of the Royals after a few crazy, rollercoaster years.

Coyle has called on the Meath GAA public to show patience in their young manager. He even reckons, after all the recent upheaval culminating in the controversy-scarred reign of Seamus McEnaney, that Meath people may be willing to cut the management team some slack.

This Sunday, Meath launch their campaign amid the backwaters of Division Three with a relatively short trek to Clones in Monaghan.

Both counties endured demotion last spring - a fate that led to a failed executive heave against Meath's first 'outside' manager before the team embarked on a recovery-of-sorts in the championship.

McEnaney isn't the only man to have managed the two counties squaring up this weekend; Coyle had been that soldier before him. But while the Royals face a tricky start to life in tier three - Clones is followed by another away date in Wicklow - Coyle refuses to see this as a negative.

"I don't think whether you're home or away in the league makes any difference. It's not as if we're heading to Galatasaray or somewhere like that - 'Welcome to hell!' Well, Aughrim might be a bit like that!" he quips.


While some observers might cite promotion as the most important objective for Meath this season, Coyle rubbishes that notion.

"They could win Division Three and if they lose the first round (in Leinster), the heads will be on the block. Obviously being down in Division Three isn't ideal, and I suppose everybody will be expecting Meath to get promoted out of it because of past history or whatever. But just looking at it, there are some difficult fixtures in that division," he warns.

"I'd imagine that the aim of the new group will be trying to get the balance between doing well in the league and trying new players," he adds.

"Some of the ones that have been around a while, I'd say, will be under pressure to keep their places. And that's kind of a good thing, because we need a change.

"I mean, a lot of the lads are still around that were there in 2007 when I was there. And we're six years down the line, and they still haven't really won the titles that would be expected. They've been falling short the whole time, so maybe it's time for a changing of the guard."

Coyle doesn't hesitate when asked where surgery is most required.

"The big thing is we need to find midfielders, in the mould of a John McDermott or Gerry McEntee or Liam Hayes," he declares, adding the caveat that Graham Reilly was "outstanding" as an unorthodox scoring machine from the middle last summer.

Given the highly rated management team that O'Dowd has assembled, this former Royal commander is relatively sanguine about the future.

"I think the mood is one that he'll be given time and patience. He could be looking at something maybe two or three years down the line," he predicts.

"If we do well and get promoted in the league, so be it. But the main thing would be to unearth players. And there's very few lads that become inter-county footballers overnight; it normally takes a couple of years, you learn by your mistakes.

"The lads should be starting on merit," he stresses, "but there's no point reverting back to the tried and trusted. Like, I know in the Leinster final, five of the six forwards that started the second half against Dublin were there five years previous, in 2007.

"So it's time for young lads to step up to the plate - and the fact that there's new management in there, it's a great opportunity for young lads. So I'd be hopeful for the future."