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Pace is king, claims Meath trainer


Joey Wallace. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

Joey Wallace. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

Joey Wallace. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

SO, where does it come from? All this Meath pace? It is this footballing summer's great cliché that Mick O'Dowd has stuffed his team with sprinters and constructed it exclusively with the open green prairies of Croke Park in mind.

Seamus McEnaney was obsessed by it while he was in charge. "Pace kills," he noted in this newspaper in 2012, "particularly if you haven't got it."

Yet the need for Meath speed goes back still further again.

"I'd been involved in 2010," explains Seán Kelly, Meath's trainer, "and looking back, I would have felt at a certain stage, when we got to the All-Ireland series, that the lack of that was probably apparent.

"But there was no ready-made solutions at that stage."

Surely just four years ago, the idea that quick players might do well on a big pitch wasn't exactly radical?

"The game changes. Dublin have changed the game. They have come up with a system with 21 players.

"Prior to that, Donegal changed the game. Tyrone did as well. Systems of play have developed in a certain way.

"Again, it's about adjusting, working on a certain type of player nowadays. You look at the top players in the country…say, James O'Donoghue.

"He's what? 5'10? Mobile. The Kerry team that won (in 2009) had the Twin Towers (Kieran Donaghy and Tommy Walsh). And that was (just) five years ago. So you have to adapt.


Still, it was quite the statement from the management of which Kelly is part to dispense with Joe Sheridan, Brian Farrell and Cian Ward.

But pace is king now. Croke Park is where things are won. Get it into you.

There were times last year when you wondered whether Eamonn Wallace's legs moved too fast for his brain.

Yet by the summer's end, he produced a spellbinding performance against Tyrone in the All-Ireland quarter-final from wing-forward.

So when his brother Joey came on against Kildare two weekends ago in what constituted one of his first games of adult football at club or county and mis-controlled a couple of balls, skied a shot and generally seemed at odds with the flow of the match, you knew there was a longer-term plan here.

When he took off with ball in hand past a posse of Kildare player seemingly pinned to the ground, you wondered whether it would even be long-term.

"That idea of identifying talent and seeing where the options are with that talent," Kelly explans.

"Some people are ready made. And some people just takes time. Joey has done really well. But again, it's going to take time for him at the moment.

"Pace is king at the moment to a certain extent. So you have to look at players that are pacey."

So when he Mick O'Dowd and Trevor Giles go to watch club and underage games in search of undiscovered jewels, are those of a less fleet-footed nature instantly discarded?

"You have to take that on board," Kelly explains. "But if you have a highly skilled individual with both feet, you still have to look at that player.

"The other thing about that is, the games are gone now…certain players might suit certain teams at certain times during the match.


"Dublin have it down to a tee. They have players that will come on and do different things in certain games.

"They might play Paddy Andrews at centre-forward in one game or Eoghan O'Gara on a certain player.

"It's that sort of….I suppose, systematic layout that's happening in gaelic games at the moment."

What of Dublin?

"I would say Dublin have 21 players that they're confident will get them through the match," Kelly outlines.

"So I would say there are some individuals they have decided that they're better off brining into the game because they can make an impact.

"And there's some individuals that will have a greater impact if they start. I also think that they will change their players in accordance to teams they're playing against.

"So they have developed a system of playing. And that system is 21 players."

Are they a difficult side to plan for?

"They are in that you don't know their selection to the same degree that you might know other team's selections. But that's the joy of it. That's the fun of it. I think it's a great opportunity for us."