Monday 11 December 2017

Appetite for graft gives Lilywhites an extra dimension

Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

Meath will struggle to handle Kildare's mobility, says Colm O'Rourke

There was a time, and it is not in the dim and distant past, when Meath could nearly always beat Kildare in the championship. Now things have turned full circle and in the last few years Kildare always beat Meath. The worry for many involved in Meath football is that the county could continue to spiral downwards and become completely irrelevant.

In many ways, Meath football reflects the changes in the make-up of society. The population of the county has doubled in a little over 20 years and the latest census reveals that over half the population has now been born outside Meath. Not only that, but it has the highest percentage of people who live in the county but who work outside it. In other words, a huge cross section of its people do not have any loyalty to Meath. A big part of Meath could be cut off and classified as north Dublin and the majority would not notice. In many ways, a lot of Meath people are like the Palestinians -- they have no homeland and no Yasser Arafat either.

Every county needs an identity. In the past Meath players were called big, thick farmers. Now they are nothing, just ignored and, as Oscar Wilde said, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. To build an identity, Meath must start at primary school level where a lot of good work is already being done. It is a long haul. Elite squads, strength and conditioning and lot of other buzzwords sound good but unless administered properly they cause more problems than they solve.

For today I am glad to see a lot of young players involved. Players like Mark Collins, Conor Gillespie, Brian Menton, Ciarán Lenehan, Donnacha Tobin, Donal Keogan, Alan Forde and Damian Carroll are not very well known but I have managed nearly all at either under 21 or senior colleges level and they have a bright future. So while Meath have not been successful recently at underage, there are still good players emerging.

Kildare have hardly set the world on fire in underage ranks but they have had patience with a manager who did not get off to the brightest of starts. Kieran McGeeney has fashioned a team which has been on the road together for much longer than

the crew assembled by Seamus McEnaney. Kildare have put resources into this team too and now have a side who are near the top; they have a very high level of fitness and play in a very fluid manner. Today they have picked two forwards at midfield, Emmet Bolton and Rob Kelly, but it does not really matter. Bolton has often been nominally a back but spent a lot of his time in the forwards and has picked off crucial scores. If they are struggling there, they can always call on Daryl Flynn and Dermot Earley for assistance.

The secret for Kildare is that everyone does a job wherever they find themselves on the pitch. This has got them over the line in a few close calls against Meath recently when Meath did not have the same willingness in a few players to sacrifice themselves for the team in doing the dirty work of marking, blocking and covering.

The most recent reference point is the league match in Navan this year. Kildare won by a point in a competitive game. Most Meath people thought our team was getting closer and were a bit unfortunate. My view was that Kildare were a good bit better and the final scoreline flattered Meath and I fear that same mobility and unselfish play which is now a characteristic of Kildare will make for a bigger gap today.

There are some very interesting clashes to look forward to, especially Kevin Reilly at full-back for Meath on Tomás O'Connor. O'Connor is quite a handful but Reilly does better than most on him and if referee Michael Collins does not interfere it should make for traditional hand-to-hand combat, a bit like the Coliseum. Latest news indicates Reilly may not field; losing one player should not be a mortal blow but Meath are now missing many of their experienced players through injuries.

Meath got a significant boost from the win over Carlow but would Kildare have allowed a replay from the same opposition? Their demolition of Offaly hinted at a side on a mission. They have identified Meath's strengths in the past and have ushered Meath's best forwards towards the sidelines in possession and stopped the runs of Graham Reilly through the middle. He will have to play a different game today and work hard with the rest of the forwards to create openings. On top of that, the forwards will have to defend against the speed of Ollie Lyons and Morgan O'Flaherty advancing from the back and that is not to mention John Doyle, James Kavanagh and Eoghan O'Flaherty.

Meath need to score a couple of goals and Cian Ward is capable of that while Brian Farrell has played exceptionally well in all the recent games. Yet cold analysis indicates one team heading for the first division and the other for the third. It would be a nice surprise if Meath were pig-headed enough to dig out a win. Yet everything does point to a Kildare victory.

The expectation in the second game is similar to the first: a clearcut win for Dublin and the big showdown with Kildare which would do no harm for the Leinster Council coffers. The same script was in place for last year's Leinster final and Wexford very nearly spoiled the party. The fallout from that display helped Dublin win the All-Ireland as Wexford exposed flaws which were ironed out on the training field. In that match, Wexford were able to isolate Dublin players and often beat them in one-to-one situations. From then on Dublin seemed to have been able to have a posse of players at every breakdown.

Dublin's demolition of Louth was a clear warning that they are not going away, while Wexford's struggles with Longford should help from a match practice point of view. They were fortunate to come through the second match. However, what Wexford have is forwards who trouble teams, a combination of Banville, Roche, Lyng, Brosnan, Morris at various stages will trouble any side.

Wexford, though, could leak a lot of scores. The Dublin forwards seem even more ruthless and with Diarmuid Connolly shedding his Balotelli image, he is set to be a top forward. Kevin McManamon deserves to start as running straight for goal is the best asset of any attacker and this is without mentioning the Brogans. If Dublin have improved a bit from last year and Wexford are not as good, then it could be a tough afternoon. Dublin have nearly been stung twice by Wexford in the past two years and will want a clear win. They will probably get it too.

Sunday Indo Sport

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport