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O'Dowd aiming to bring Royals into football's new tactical era

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Meath manager Mick O'Dowd see some obvious areas where his side can improve. Photo: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE

Meath manager Mick O'Dowd see some obvious areas where his side can improve. Photo: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE

Meath manager Mick O'Dowd see some obvious areas where his side can improve. Photo: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE

It's been a juggling act for Mick O'Dowd.

Restoring old values, while bringing Meath football into the new world has been the trick. Keeping the Royals competitive, while consistently plumping for youth is also part of the balancing act.

It's year two for O'Dowd and while the pace of change has slowed, the work continues. The Meath manager points at some obvious areas where they can improve.

A return to the top flight – narrowly missed out on this year – remains a priority. Physically, too, O'Dowd says Meath still have work to do to catch up with the top teams.

At underage level, they are slowly cranking into gear. The U-21s reached a Leinster final this year for the first time since 2001. The minors have also been more competitive in recent times, suggesting that had O'Dowd waited for a few years before taking charge, he'd have been working off more solid foundations.

"I didn't really think of it to be honest," he said. "I said this last year, that I'm very proud of Meath and I just thought we'd slipped completely off the radar. The fundamentals and the principles of Meath football had been lost. That motivated me to get involved. I didn't really think, 'Is there a great bunch of young lads out there?'

"I always believed that there was so much good work going on at club level in Meath that there has to be players and there are players. We're bringing them through, slowly but surely."

O'Dowd is conscious of the style council in Meath that has certain demands on how football should be played. Seamus McEnaney was roundly criticised when he introduced a shorter game, but O'Dowd recognises the nuances required in the modern game.

"The game has gone far more tactical than it was 15 or 20 years ago when Meath were last successful at All-Ireland level. If you take Dublin and Donegal, they play contrasting styles and if you want to beat them you need to be somewhat adaptable. I think that's one of the things we've improved on a lot.

"I'd like to think that in a lot of our championship football last year, we were true to that (Meath) style. But then we played Dublin one way and we played Tyrone a couple of weeks later a different way. You're all the time trying to adapt and have that adaptability among the players."

The absence of Eamonn Wallace, Cillian O'Sullivan and Davy Dalton robs Meath of three genuine speed merchants that would have flourished in the space of Croke Park, but he dismisses any talk of that until Carlow are beaten. It's only two years since they drew with the Barrowsiders in Tullamore.

"Motivation to get the jersey in itself, that for me has to be serious motivation. That's the first thing. There's a good few lads – maybe six, seven or eight – who played in

that game, maybe more, so they'll remember that, certainly.

"For everyone in the squad, talking to them generally, this is the first round of the championship, this is what we're training for since last October.

"I kind of said it at the beginning that we need to become a top-eight team in league and championship. We missed out on that in the league.

"To get to the quarter-finals of the championship is how you gauge that. That's a definite target for us. But, look, there's the Leinster championship before you think about the All-Ireland series.

"The Leinster championship is just totally focused on Carlow. That's all we're worried about now."


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