MEATH'S disastrous start to their 2013 league campaign has been compounded by the loss of Damien Carroll to a suspected broken ankle.
The Ballinabrackey clubman, who rose meteroically from under-21 captain into the Royal's chief playmaker last season, suffered a bad knock to the ankle in training on Tuesday night and there are growing fears that he has suffered a debilitating break and is facing a lengthy absence.
Carroll, along with the likes of Alan Forde and Donal Keogan, was one of a host of young players given their senior bows by Seamus McEnaney last year and played a starring role in Meath's Leinster SFC semi-final victory over Kildare.
Similarly, he is highly regarded by the new management headed by Mick O'Dowd and started last Sunday's heavy defeat in Clones, scoring a point - one of only five scores by the Meathmen on the day - but if a broken ankle is confirmed, he will definitely miss the rest of their spring campaign.
The Royals began life in Division 3 of the Allianz League with a 1-18 to 2-3 defeat to Monaghan last Sunday and face a trip to Aughrim to face Wicklow - themselves on the back of a severe hiding to Fermanagh in round one - carrying an away record of just two wins in the last 18 attempts.
Already, they are without captain Kevin Reilly, former skippers Stephen Bray and Seamus Kenny, as well as Shane O'Rourke, Shane McAnarney and Mickey Burke for the early stages of the league.
GAA director-general Páraic Duffy says there will be no dillution of the new sideline regulations and has attempted to ease fears about the proximity of team doctors to potential emergency situations from their new posting away from the sideline.
"There's nobody trying to prevent doctors going on the pitch to treat a player," stated Duffy. "We're insisting that they have quick and easy access to the pitch at all times but there's no reason why they can't be in the stand – as happens in other sports – during the game.
"They can get on to the pitch in a matter of seconds."
"The decision to reduce it was taken by Central Council at two meetings. Counties voted for change – it's here to stay," Duffy added.