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Royal focus on change


Meath manager Mick O'Dowd. Picture: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Meath manager Mick O'Dowd. Picture: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Meath manager Mick O'Dowd. Picture: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

MEATH'S Leinster SFC opener in Aughrim against Wicklow on Sunday might have been in the middle of many bright red circles on calenders adorning the walls of Royals supporters but for new manager Mick O'Dowd, the date has only recently begun to represent his priority.

"Really it has only come into focus since we beat Fermanagh and got promoted," O'Dowd insists.

"The big thing in Meath, this year, was to get back up to Division 2 quickly. When we started off in November, there was a lot of change going on. There's probably nearly 13 new players in a squad of 31.

"That's 13 fellas who weren't there last year. Obviously the whole management team is new, the backroom team is new, so that's a lot of change to have in a unit in a small space of time. So the big focus was on getting promoted and when that was done the 15th of June was the next target."

As it happens, Meath will be without two of the six defenders that started their Division 3 final loss to Monaghan last month, with Eoghan Harrington and Davy Dalton both waylaid through injury.

Harrington has an Achilles Tendon injury and is likely to be out for a further four weeks while Dalton – who scored a spectacular goal against Monaghan in Croke Park – is, as O'Dowd put it, "definitely out for the month of June".

Last year's Young Footballer of the Year nominee, Donal Keogan is, however, expected to slot straight back into the Meath defence after sitting out the Monaghan match whilst concentrating on his final college exams.



A more positive development for O'Dowd was the return to football of both Shane O'Rourke and Alan Forde for their clubs last week, although judging by the Meath manager's sentiments, it's unlikely either will be fast tracked into the Royal set-up.

"There's constant pressure on Shane," O'Dowd explained. "'When are you back? When will you be playing?' He needed that leeway to just work on his own programme, with our support as well. So he's not with us but most definitely when he's playing with his club on a regular basis he'll be back in with us as well."

Forde, meanwhile, has missed all of this year's action thus far with a hip injury and O'Dowd conceded that it was "unlikely that he'll be back in for this year's Championship".

Another of last year's major finds, Damien Carroll, is back fully fit, however, and on Saturday in Wicklow, there could yet be a Championship debut for Eamonn Wallace, the Ratoath youngster who was the sprint winner over 400 metres in a recent Irish inter-varsity race meet.

"We're trying to play a pretty direct game, whether it's with the foot or sometimes running it, depending on where you're starting from or where the opposition's defence has been set up," explained O'Dowd of a slight change in emphasis for Meath this year in possession, a factor at least to blame for a topsy-turvey spring.

"There was a few hairy moments in the League," he accepts. "But I kind of expected there to be. I didn't think it would be smooth sailing. With all the change going on and then you were coming up against teams that were well settled and further advanced in their training and strength-and-conditioning.

"As well as that, when we came in there were 13 fellas injured and many of them were key leaders of the team.

"So we made a decision then, that you might say was with the 15th of June in mind, that we gave them a longer period to recover rather than rushing them for the first round of the League.

"When we got those defeats to Monaghan and Cavan, there were plenty of people around the county that were saying, look, stick with it," O'Dowd adds.

"Obviously, that's what we were going to do anyway but there was a lot of support around the county."