Colm Keys: Third coming
Sitting at home watching Meath lose both championship matches to Kildare within the space of just six weeks last summer, David Gallagher never imagined that the next time they would meet he would be restored as the team's goalkeeper.
As far as Gallagher was concerned, he was a former inter-county player who had not played a championship match in six years and could still feel the darts of pain from a degenerated disk in his lower back that forced him into a life of caution and care.
A regular fix of outfield football with his club Dunboyne was sufficient for him.
Gallagher had not played a championship match for Meath since Cavan knocked them out of the 2005 qualifiers in a match better known as Sean Boylan's last one as manager.
When Eamonn Barry came in the following year, Gallagher was tried and tested as an outfield player before a groin injury which required surgery ended that experiment.
However, when Boylan plucked him from left field to be the International Rules goalkeeper on the 2008 tour to Australia, it served notice that Gallagher could still operate at the highest level.
A brief return in 2010, after Brendan Murphy's initial retirement, didn't last long and for 2011 he was back out to pasture again.
But when Murphy retired for a second time, this time for good, and when Paddy O'Rourke was discharged from the squad, Seamus McEnaney had to come calling to the 32-year-old. For the third time, Gallagher was gathering his gear in another call to arms.
"Seamus came to me at the start of the year and told me that there's a place there if I wanted it, if I worked hard and put the effort in and see how things went. At my age I couldn't turn it down," explains Gallagher.
"I've been around the club scene for the last few years and really enjoyed the outfield football we had played. At 32 I just felt that maybe it was time to give it one more thrash, that I had left a couple of years behind me. I decided, 'right, give it a go and see how things pan out'.
"In previous years on the squad, between injury and lack of other things at the time, I didn't give the commitment it needed."
When he thinks back now, he never saw or imagined a way back on to the team.
"It wasn't in my head and, if I was blatantly honest, I probably didn't think it was going to happen. I probably felt that there was a couple of years that I left behind. In future years I might have said maybe I should have tried to get back to do this."
So far, apart from the obvious slip at the end of the drawn game with Carlow when a fumble gifted Meath's opponents a late redeeming goal, it has worked out well.
"We haven't really conceded many goals. If you want to say we had a bad league campaign, we still only conceded five goals which is not all that much," he argues. "It was my own fault that we conceded one against Carlow and last week there was a good finish which probably shouldn't have been let in either.
"Probably after the drawn Carlow game the knives were out as to why they had brought this fella back but I know deep down how good I am and hopefully I can produce what I produced last week again.
"I don't think it was a risk. I think the only thing that was a risk was injury problems over the years. Work had suffered this year a couple of times. To be honest that's the bread and butter. If you can't go to work then that's a bigger problem."
A plumber by trade, the back problem has never forgiven him.
"I got another MRI a few weeks ago because I just felt that it's been six or seven years since I got the first one just to see if there was anything and it showed a very bad bulged disk again. So that's the real risk in coming back."
The error against Carlow is something he chose not to dwell on.
"There is no man out on this Earth that doesn't make a mistake. It could have been worse, it could have been one to lose the game.
"It would have been a horrible feeling anyway. I'm my own worst critic. Nobody needed to tell me it was a bad mistake. I knew it was a bad mistake. I was shocked. It was a schoolboy error."
Gallagher believes thin lines were crossed that drove Meath into crisis earlier this year when it could easily have been avoided with just one different result.
"We were a kick of a ball away from staying in Division 2 after three games and there wouldn't have been a word of anything that has gone on since. But our form after that, there are no excuses, it just wasn't good enough.
"Lads need to take responsibility for what happened. It was very disappointing to be put to Division 3. It was a dent to the confidence.
"But as I kept saying to the lads afterwards, it's just going to take one win to turn this around. And thankfully it did.
"We played well against Wicklow. We didn't play well against Carlow in the first game. In hindsight that draw was the best thing that happened us because we went out the next day and showed what we can do," Gallagher adds. "We put up a big score. You can say what you want against Carlow, we still played well on the day. And we did put up some big scores.
"We have nothing to lose. I hope that the honesty within the group can come out on the day against Kildare."