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Coyle confident Royals can turn form around

MEATH sponsor Luke Comer of Comer Homes ran a horse in Dundalk last Friday week.

Dodging Daggers was named long before Seamus McEnaney survived a vote of no confidence, but if the Meath manager had noticed it, he might have allowed himself a little smile.

After refusing a request to step down in the wake of relegation to Division 3, McEnaney continued about his business, scouting tomorrow's opponents Wicklow. He kept his counsel and won a few admirers. Just enough, as it turned out, to stay in the job.

Still, the county is in a state of flux. The same vote that kept McEnaney in his position, also revealed he had the support of less than half the clubs in the county.

The upshot is that there arguably hasn't been such pessimism in Meath ahead of a championship campaign since 1996 when the likes of Colm O'Rourke, Robbie O'Malley and PJ Gillic had walked away following the 10-point defeat by Dublin the previous summer.

Back then, Carlow were their first opponents, and fresh from kicking 8-27 in two games against Wexford and Wicklow, the late Bobby Miller's charges were tipped to cause an upset.

"The team from the 1980s had really broken up at that stage," recalls three time All-Ireland winner Colm Coyle. "Myself and Marty (O'Connell) stayed on because someone had to! But we had a lot of lads that were unproven. No one really gave us much hope and it was expected it would be a couple of years before we got back going again."

Meath won comfortably and the rest is history, but Coyle warns that, with a failed heave against the manager still festering in the background, the circumstances are different this time around.

"There was a good atmosphere in our group. Sean (Boylan) changed the whole preparation for us that year and we did some sports psychology work, which wasn't that widespread at the time. Instead of banging tables before we went out, which a lot of teams were doing, Sean would have us lying down just getting our breathing right."

The tales from the challenge- game circuit suggest Meath have reverted to a more direct game, aided by the return of Joe Sheridan. Joe's brother Brian, who was earlier this year linked with a switch to Cavan, for whom he qualifies through his father, is also back in the squad along with Ballinlough's Peadar Byrne.

The set-up has been invigorated with new blood, but injuries to pacy forwards Stephen Bray and Paddy Gilsenan have been a blow that sees McEnaney name four debutants in his side. Conor Gillespie, Alan Forde, Mark Collins and Donncha Tobin all make their first starts.

"Joe being back will help, particularly with the new square ball rule, because he's good in the air," maintains Coyle, who, like Sheridan, hails from the Seneschalstown club.

"Meath have brought in a couple of new coaches since then too in John Evans and Trevor Giles and with that amount of people over a team the message is bound to get diluted.

"And Wicklow have a smattering of really good players, so it wouldn't be a major surprise if they won. But I'd still expect Meath to come through."

If there is a sense of trepidation in Meath, the bookmakers don't reflect it, installing the Royals as 2/5 favourites in expectation of them maintaining the old order.

As it turned out, Dodging Daggers was a 66/1 shot that finished stone last. Meath are hoping that the bookies have got it right again.

Irish Independent