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O'Mahonys' class can claim Royal crown

IT'S been four years since Navan O'Mahonys last appearance in a Meath SFC final, a strangely lengthy period of absence given their perennial local billing in the Royal County.

Indeed Paddy Martyn -- manager of tomorrow's county final opponents, Wolfe Tones -- went so far as to describe the Navan club as "the Dublin of Meath" to the Meath Chronicle this week, whatever that means.

Still, it's been an arduous journey back to tomorrow's decider, given O'Mahonys have had to make do without two of their most influential and experienced players -- Meath seniors defender, Kevin Reilly, and towering midfielder, Mark Ward, this year. Both were laid low with serious injuries which afflicted their respective summers with the Royals.

They made serious hard work of their semi-final win over Donaghmore/Ashbourne, starting slowly before warming to their task. But any such lethargic beginning tomorrow will likely be more emphatically punished by a hungry Tones outfit.

For their part, Tones were uber-impressive in their own semi win over Seneschalstown - many people's favourites to go all the way - although it remains to be seen if hurling, of all things, could adversely affect their chances of a first Meath crown since 2009.

Local reports suggest Tones could be without the influential Mark Coleman who strained a hamstring in last Sunday's Intermediate Hurling final loss to Rathmolyon, a game in which five of their starting 15 tomorrow were involved.

As ever, Cian Ward will be vital to Tones chances, although the emergence of his younger brother and Meath minor, Fiachra, has eased the scoring burden somewhat on his older sibling.

Even still, O'Mahonys will need to be vigilant of the free count anywhere inside -- and at times, outside -- their own 45-metre line.

In that regard, experienced inter-county referee David Coldrick could be an influential figure in the eventual destination of the Keegan Cup.

Niall McKeigue is set to be given the task of tracking the elder Ward while Shane Crosby has been a rock of consistency at the heart of the Navan defence.

In the absence of Mark Ward, Cormac McGuinness and Barry Regan have formed a patchwork but hugely impressive midfield pairing and any attack with Stephen Bray will need minding. There are local rumours, too, that his brother and former Meath senior David -- who has suffered a spate of injuries in recent years -- could be in line for a timely comeback at some point tomorrow.

Just two points separated these teams the last time they met in a county final back in 2006, when Wolfe Tones prevailed. But by virtue of their more widespread class, the 'home' team should collect a 17th Royal County crown tomorrow.

The winners face Emmet óg (Longford) or St Anne's (Wexford) in the Leinster Club SFC.

ODDS: Wolfe Tones 11/5, Draw 7/1, Navan O'Mahonys 1/2 VERDICT: Navan O'Mahonys