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Royal reboot to begin at Armagh's expense

KEVIN Reilly was in Croke Park this week at the press launch of these final All-Ireland SFC qualifiers, an appearance notable for the fact that his were first publicly spoken words of any from inside the Meath camp since the direct and firey aftermath of their Leinster final from hell.

Naturally, he was asked about the allegation of biting made by Mickey Burke to Pádraig Hughes and made public by Mick O'Dowd and, just as naturally, he touched only barely on the subject and sought to move on.

Yet when asked whether the issue contained, had Meath decided to fully pursue the case, potential to create a distraction á la the aftermath of the 2010 Leinster SFC, Reilly bristled slightly, noting how they were "totally different situations."

The insinuation being that the Louth/Sludden fiasco was partly Meath's own making. The Burke incident was not.

Yet the point of the question was not to compare the two. More to justify Meath's course of action in not taking the two-footed route of justice seeking.

sleeping dogs

And that's probably a good thing, even if it might jar Meath to allow sleeping dogs lie.

They will attempt to absorb the full pelt of Armagh's rage-against-the-GAA-world in Croke Park this evening and anything that consumed their time other than preparing for what they will face here would serve only as distraction.

Reilly even admitted that the most important recovery that Meath's players will (or won't) have undergone since the 16-point defeat to Dublin is a psychological healing.

So being hung up on the defeat or any lasting sourness is hardly a very productive use of their time.

The headlines that Reilly created this week were for another reason; the criticism/slagging/abuse experienced by Meath's players in the direct aftermath of the match and that also can have a propelling effect, so long as those to suffer at the slack-jawed words of ill-wishers use it in the right way.

You can thumb through Meath's performance, examine tactics, match-ups and individual displays and not come up with an area of their play that, if improved, would have diminished their inferiority against Dublin.

Their lethargy was deep-rooted, caused at least partly by the excellence of a team setting new standards for themselves.

So it's all well and good O'Dowd making positional and personnel switches. But long-term injuries this year mean his hand isn't as strong to begin with.

And how do you choose which under-performer to punish?

broke even

Questioned after the game as to whether any good could be taken from the day, O'Dowd stalled for a second and came back with the assertion that a few of his players had played well individually.

But even the one he name-checked, Donal Keogan, probably still only broke even with his man.

So this game will determine whether there is more to Meath than just brashness and pace and strength.

Their character, leadership and physical fortitude will be examined throughout.

Because in all the criticism, it can't have escaped those wearing the jersies that their very Meath-ness was also called into questioned.

Then you've Armagh.

Sick of reading about their media ban? Us too. But there's a certain shame to it too.

Whether Paul Grimley or Kieran McGeeney actually believe "hysterical" reportage of their pre-Cavan fisticuffs cost them their suspended players for the draw game against Monaghan, we've no real idea.

But in a way, they have been the story of the summer ... just none of them will tell us about it.

Quietly, they slipped from superpower to irrelevance at the start of this decade and at one stage last year had to be checked for a pulse.

Strong club players were looking for excuses not to row in and then, whether by welcome coincidence or not, McGeeney came in and now they're not the sort of team you'd fancy if, as is the case with Meath, you were questioning the very core of your footballing soul.

unrecognisible

As a team, there are unrecognisable - both in personnel and disposition - from a year ago.

Kevin Dyas is a revelation as a play-maker. Ciarán McKeever gave an exhibition in that new 'quarter-back' role favoured by so many managers for their centre-back against Roscommon last time out. And Aaron Findon - in an old-school midfielder sort of way - is the sort of player Armagh have missed since Paul McGrane.

Similarly, this evening is a great chance to watch Jamie Clarke play in Croke Park, an all too rare sight, though one Meath know all about, having scored 11 points on them in Navan this March.

Meath, we suspect though, are a team of much greater substance than they showed against Dublin.

And, for the sake of their continued development, it's imperative that a response is immediate.We've a hunch it's in them.

ODDS: Meath 6/5, Draw 17/2, Armagh 10/11

VERDICT:Meath


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