Mick O'Dowd: Dublin and Meath always bring best out of each other
Meath manager confident improving Royals can push Dubs right to the limit and keep summer 'buzz' going
He bounds into the crowded room late, but very welcome, and every head in the place turns to the door to welcome the Royal who captained Meath to All-Ireland glory in the 1996 All-Ireland football final.
He is being welcomed by Joe Connolly, the captain of the Galway team who won the All-Ireland title in 1980, a success which paved the way for a glorious decade for the Tribesmen at a time when Meath also came good in football.
Most of those present in the room are hurling people. They are in the Clayton Hotel in Ballybrit, the heartland of Castlegar, Galway's most successful hurling club.
It is the launch of an event called '100,000 Steps For Cormac', a charity walk next month which is being organised by Connolly in honour of his nephew Cormac, who died from an inoperable brain tumour three years ago aged 24.
A lot of the people in the room are hurling folk from all over the country, and Dowd's presence adds a new dimension.
"It is just as well for Messi and Robben that Tommy Dowd wasn't playing in the World Cup, because then they would know what it was like to be hit," Joe Connolly tells the crowd.
Dowd is a bit embarrassed by the big welcome but there is a pep in the step of most Meath people these days and Sunday's clash with the Dubs is eagerly anticipated.
"We all know the heights that Dublin have reached and we know what's ahead of us. It's going to be a tremendous match and a great occasion and probably a packed house as well. And with the way Dublin play their game and go about their business, it's going to be a huge task for us. But Meath are always in with a chance to beat them so we won't be going up to Croke Park for the spin.
"We're going to enjoy the game and bring the best out of ourselves between supporters and teams as well."
Dowd has played and beaten some very good Dublin teams and he says that this current crop is as good as he has seen.
"I would rate them very highly, they are very strong. I suppose in their panel, they probably have seven or eight lads on the line who would get on any county team in the country which is tremendous for the manager Jim Gavin, to turn around to the bench and see what he has got on the line.
"Maybe other counties haven't got that but at the same time when you're in the heat of battle you always feel you're in with a chance and we're really looking forward to the Leinster final."
Dowd believes that Meath are emerging as a big force again and that they are starting to reap the rewards for all the work done at underage level in recent years.
"We have a good young team. Mick O'Dowd has done a lot of work over the last few years with Trevor Giles, Sean Kelly, Colm Brady, there's a good back-room team there as well.
"I think the lads trust the management and the management trust the players as well, which is very important when you're trying to win a championship."
He said that the key to success is having a panel big enough to offset injuries or loss of form and he believes that Meath have that strength at the moment.
"You saw it the last day when Mickey Newman was missing, our chief free-taker, went off. Andy Tormey came in and kicked some fabulous points from frees and from play as well and that's what you need. You need to be able to adjust to situations."
Meath need a serious scalp to announce their arrival back in the big time and Dowd knows that ousting a Dublin side who are red-hot favourites for Sam would be the perfect boost.
"I suppose we are going in as complete outsiders but at the same time we always feel that we're in with a chance no matter what kind of a team Dublin have out, we definitely won't fear them in any way.
"I suppose we're the best team in Leinster who would put it up to the Dubs at the end of the day.
"We will be out in force on Sunday and we're really looking forward to it. We'll definitely bring the best out of the Dubs, so we'll see what happens."
Dowd said reaching the Leinster final has electrified the county again and that football fever has again taken hold.
"There is a great buzz back in the county and the flags are flying high again. It is great to see. We've been in a little bit of a lull in the last few years, but now we need to push on.
"We know Dublin will be expected to win but they know that Meath, of all counties, will fancy a crack off them and we would be hopeful of getting over the Dubs. There is never much between Meath and Dublin no matter if one is on top at that particular time," added Dowd.
He will return to Galway at the end of August to participate in the charity walk in honour of Cormac Connolly, with funds raised going to the suicide support centre Pieta House.
"That's the strength of the GAA, we look out for each other when it matters. Meath and Dublin have a huge rivalry but there is also huge respect for each other. You tend to bring the best out in each other," added the former Royals captain.
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