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O'Dowd: We've got to raise bar to sink Wexford

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Meath manager Mick O'Dowd. Picture credit: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

Meath manager Mick O'Dowd. Picture credit: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

Meath manager Mick O'Dowd. Picture credit: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

WE all know the stereotypical back story to Sunday's Leinster semi-final curtain-raiser at Croke Park. Meath are a traditional football superpower. Wexford produce hurling-mad people who dabble in football.

And yet the recent records don't back it up. Who has won the last two championship collisions between the counties? Wexford.

Which Leinster rival caused most headaches for Pat Gilroy's Dublin? If you leave aside that freakish five-goal Meath salvo in 2010, it wasn't the rollercoaster Royals, and it probably wasn't Kildare either. Three years running, Wexford tied them up in knots but let winning positions slip.

"Oh, there's no doubt," says Meath manager Mick O'Dowd when asked if Wexford have, indeed, been Dublin's most consistent challenger in Leinster.

"Everybody knows how good their forward unit is, but they've a really strong midfield and two wing-backs that are well capable of scoring, have done it on plenty of occasions. And then a tight back line as well, with an experienced goalie.

"So they've plenty of experience throughout the team, and, as you say, on big days they've performed – so that's what we'll be prepared for."

The one imponderable is the altered managerial landscape. Jason Ryan was in charge for all the aforementioned Dublin encounters, as well as when Wexford last faced the Royals in SFC combat – and surged from 10 points adrift to win a crazy 2008 encounter.

Colm Coyle exited the Meath hot-seat that summer, sparking five years of sporadic highs (2010), frequent lows, endless county board intrigue and general upheaval. O'Dowd is the third different manager post-Coyle. Does his arrival usher in a period of transition?

"Ah, I don't really like to go down the transitional period (excuse)," he counters, "because the championship comes every year and as a traditional county, you just have to be ready to play the championship.

"It's about getting that blend across the team – of experience and youth and pace and strength and skill. That's what your job is as a management team ... it was nice to get a good start (against Wicklow) and then we'd hope to improve on that for Sunday," adds O'Dowd.

At times in that first half, their defence was opened up too easily. An area of concern? "Possibly," says O'Dowd. "That early tackle is important. You'd be looking for everyone to really tighten up in that regard."

He also confirms that replacing both wing-backs at the break was at least partly based on the fact that Ciarán Lenehan and Mickey Burke were both carrying yellow cards. As for Sunday's second semi-final, the Meath boss hasn't given Dublin/Kildare a second thought and will only decide whether to stay and watch at full-time in his own game (for obvious results-based reasons).

"I just totally focus on Wexford ... we can't afford to be looking beyond that," he reasons. "We've beaten a team that were in the same division as us in the first round; now we're gone up a level, a team that was playing Division Two football, so that's our total focus," concludes O'Dowd.


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