Thursday 14 December 2017

Double-jobbing serving Reilly well ahead of Colmcille's date with destiny

Meath star played as many games as possible to get right for All-Ireland tilt

Meath captain Graham Reilly has played the first two games of the league for the Royals, but tomorrow his focus is solely on his club St Colmcille’s. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Meath captain Graham Reilly has played the first two games of the league for the Royals, but tomorrow his focus is solely on his club St Colmcille’s. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

When the year turned and Meath IFC winners St Colmcille's were headed for an All-Ireland semi-final, their star man Graham Reilly made his position clear.

Naturally the club would want him to focus on nothing only their pursuit of All-Ireland honours. And Meath would also need him too as they looked to rebuild under new boss Andy McEntee.

But Reilly made it clear to both parties that as far as he was concerned, more was. . . well, more.

So he flew in the face of convention and played as many games as he could for whoever called on him. The recently appointed Meath captain turned out for the county right through the O'Byrne Cup, including playing just a week before Colmcille's semi-final clash with Tyrone's Pomeroy.

He then returned to county duty for the opening round of the League and only sat out the Royals' win over Derry ahead of tomorrow's All-Ireland decider with Mayo champions Westport.

It's certainly the road less travelled, with many players opting to play only for their clubs in similar situations. But Reilly reckons the strategy has served him well.

"I sat down with Andy at the start of the year and I said to him the more games I play the better," Reilly explains. "And as we got closer to the All-Ireland games I felt like I still needed game-time.

"I played the few games in the O'Byrne Cup and then the weekend of the Louth game, the club were playing on the Friday night anyway so it worked out that I could play with Meath on the Sunday if they were out on the Friday night.

"I just think I'm better having games than just training three or four times a week."

Other than the obvious risk of picking up an injury the week before the club semi-final, the Louth game in the O'Byrne Cup carried a further complication. His club manager Colm Nally acts as a selector with Louth while the Wee County's manager Colin Kelly also had a stint in charge of Colmcille's.

Typically, the local derby was hot and heavy with Reilly in the middle of the action.

"Colin Kelly managed us as well in the past so I get on very well with the both of them," says Reilly. "I don't think Colm really wanted me playing and it was physical but every Meath and Louth game is the same. Meath want to beat Louth and Louth want to beat Meath. That's just the way those games are and they beat us on the day."

Reilly came through unscathed and now the east Meath club have their eyes on taking one more step.

Should it come down to a battle in Croke Park tomorrow, Colmcille's might fancy themselves as they have repeatedly shown they have a stomach for the fight.

In the Meath semi-final, they came through after extra-time. Reilly was sent off early in the county decider but the 14 remaining did enough to force a replay.

They have won all their games in the Leinster and All-Ireland series by three points or less, including a last-gasp free to win the provincial decider. They also pulled themselves back from being three points down in the 56th minute against Pomeroy to reach tomorrow's final.

Stupid

"We've been winning tight games," says Reilly. "James Conlon kicked a great point in the (Meath) semi-final to bring us to extra-time. After my stupid mistake (getting sent off) in the final the lads dug really deep and got us a draw and we won the replay. We beat the Wicklow champions and after that nearly every game has been a one or two-point win.

"Against Pomeroy too we didn't expect to be seven or eight points up at any stage and maybe that caught us by surprise and we were trailing late on but again the lads managed to dig deep and pull it out, so yeah we've been winning these tight games.

"But Westport have been winning too, they are a very good team."

So all eyes are on Sunday and a chance to strike a blow for Meath football. But whatever happens this weekend, he'll be straight back to county duty.

"The Kildare result wasn't what we wanted. But we watched the DVD and we saw they had four goal chances and took three. We had seven and took none and when you do that you can lose by nine or ten points. We had chances and missed a couple, a one-on-one with the keeper.

"But against Derry the lads really worked hard.

"All my attention is on the Westport game but after that it'll be straight back in to concentrating on Down on Saturday night."

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