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Reilly's rescue

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Meath's Kevin Reilly in action against Kildare. Picture credit: Barry Gregg / SPORTSFILE

Meath's Kevin Reilly in action against Kildare. Picture credit: Barry Gregg / SPORTSFILE

Meath's Kevin Reilly in action against Kildare. Picture credit: Barry Gregg / SPORTSFILE

KEVIN REILLY is conflicted. The Meath captain, their defensive totem and pillar of sensibility, is torn between two theories.

Part of him, understandably, longs for stability within the Royal realm, a base from which to construct something meaningful and sustainable.

That particular part of Reilly is the one who has grown weary at arriving back for training each winter to find a new voice, a new manager and a new beginning.

And reason tells him that progress can, at best, be only fleeting with such upheaval.

The other part – the competitor and the Meathman reared on years of hardy and successful teams from the county – instinctively feels that their rightful place is somewhere – anywhere – on football's highest table.

It decrees that Meath being Meath, regardless of comings and goings in the top office, should be dining on silver and there in the All-Ireland shake-up when the runners and riders are catching stride in August.

"Managers have to be given time to establish their own style and their own method on their team," he says of the almost constant managerial refurbishment in Meath since his arrival. "And they have to allow their team to settle as well. In Meath, we have seen over the years that managers come in on one- and two-year terms and are only really starting to find their feet when we get a new guy in.

"And from a player's point of view, that's unfortunate that we have to start again. You press the reset button and it's back to square one every couple of years.

"So I think it's vitally important that we get stability. I think Mick (O'Dowd) is definitely bringing that and we are building and evolving.

And yet by virtue of their aristocratic recent history, expectations are, by default, elevated in Meath. Probably unfairly so, given the lack of success at underage level and a club scene which could hardly be described as thriving.

Eamon O'Brien, for instance, got the boot after a Leinster-winning season – Meath's first provincial silverware in nine years – despite backing from the county board's executive.

O'Dowd's predecessor, the indomitable Séamus McEnaney, managed to stay two seasons on the throne, but only after surviving an attempted coup which, like the O'Brien decision, had the whiff of a protest vote against the power brokers in the county.

"I think that's a good thing," Reilly insists, the competitive side of his brain clicking into gear.

"You have to be ambitious. You have to win and you have to want success.

"But it's up to managers and players to get the formula right.

"You're going to have to take each game as it comes. But for Meath football, we have to be back challenging finals.

"I think it's very important and it's a minimum requirement for supporters and players alike that you do go back and contest finals."

Part of that formula in Meath is a fit Kevin Reilly. His return from a nuisance Achilles injury this year either coincided with or caused Meath's winter upturn, depending on whom you listen most closely to.

"Fortunately enough, I can put that aside," he says of the long-standing, highly debilitating injury which required surgery in Sweden last November.

"I don't dwell on it too much. I can't afford to dwell on it or else you would be setting yourself back mentally. You get on with it.

"I think you're blessed every day you can grace the field. I count myself very lucky that I have the chance to play football, let alone play with the county."

He had already been installed as captain by O'Dowd, a role he admits coveting in his youth.

"It's a great honour to lead your county, especially such a proud county as Meath. It was something that I did want to do.

"When you're looking on, growing up, at the likes of Graham Geraghty, Trevor Giles and these guys that have been successful as captains of the Meath football team... I'm very much looking forward to it."

Similarly, he follows in a long, illustrious and fearsome run of Meath full-backs. Though he has filled in at centre-back this year, the number three jersey is the one he most enjoys wearing.

Tradition

"Again, it's an honour to play full-back for the county given the tradition of full-backs, such as Darren Fay and Mick Lyons. Two guys I would have had as idols growing up.

"They didn't give their opponents an inch, which was a real motivating influence from everybody else out the pitch," he adds.

"Traditionally, we would have gone for a big and strong team," Reilly concludes of the paradigm shift in Meath's make-up this year.

"To be fair, I think the lads were pacy enough. They give defenders headaches. But we will have to wait and see what the championship brings in terms of how they get on."


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