O'Dowd vows to put Meath back on map
THERE wasn't a single voice of dissension at last Monday night's county board meeting when Mick O'Dowd's name was put forward to be Meath's fifth manager in the seven years since the departure of Sean Boylan.
O'Dowd wasn't the highest profile candidate on the shortlist as he beat off competition from Graham Geraghty, Paddy Carr and Colm O'Rourke.
His most notable achievement came eight years ago when, as player-manager of Skryne, he led them to a county championship.
But in opting for O'Dowd, Meath have followed the likes of Dublin and Donegal in appointing a young manager.
O'Dowd turns 39 next month and, in recent years, has confined his managing to his club. Unlike Jim McGuinness and Jim Gavin, he didn't come through the U-21 route, though he always hoped he'd get to chance to manage Meath. "I always liked being involved and having an influence," said the Dublin-based Rabobank official.
"Even as player-manager that time, I enjoyed it and it went well. And I spoke to Mac (John McDermott) and Trevor (Giles) and got good feedback from them at the time.
"Now I've got the right people and I wouldn't have let my name go forward if i didn't get them.
"It's not just about managers anymore, it's about the whole team around you. I asked three people and they were all willing to get on board."
All three -- Giles, Sean Kelly and Colm Brady -- have been involved with a Meath back-room team in some capacity before, while the new U-21 manager Sean Barry worked with Kelly to secure a senior title for Navan O'Mahonys in 2008.
Andy McEntee remains on as minor manager after their All-Ireland final appearance this year.
"We'd all have a certain amount of experience and know each other. I'd know Andy quite well. There is a kind of a link-up now across the three teams," O'Dowd added.
Where Meath stand on the football ladder is a matter for debate. Relegation to Division 3 in the spring and the shock Leinster championship win over Kildare point to wildly fluctuating form, but O'Dowd is pragmatic.
"We're in Division 3 and that's where we are. We would like to believe we're a Division 2 side and should be aiming to get into Division 1, but we'll start with where we are," he said.
O'Dowd has yet to meet with the players, but plans to hand out programmes before the training ban comes into force.
Only Seamus Kenny, captain of the past two seasons, remains part of the Meath set-up from when O'Dowd was involved as a player, with perhaps his most notable appearance for the county coming in the 2001 All-Ireland semi-final hammering of Kerry.
"I think Seamus is the only player I played with for Meath, so I'd have no strong relationships in there," he said.
"I'm looking forward to meeting them and finding out what their goals are and where they want to be."
He'll stop short of running trials. That his predecessor Seamus McEnaney handed out so many championship debuts last summer suggests the county has been well trawled recently.
"Trials tend to be a little unfair on both the players and selectors. But there are guys we'll be having a look at to see what they are like when they come up against inter-county players and we'll take it from there," he said.
A major issue for O'Dowd is the style of play that Meath will pursue. He hinted that there will be no major move away from the county's traditional approach, but warned that the players will have to become more adaptable to counter some teams.
Meath's league campaign is set to kick off with a visit to Monaghan on Sunday, February 3.
"Personally, I don't see any point in playing a style of football that most of the clubs in the county aren't playing. But the top teams are playing a certain way and we'll have to be able to counteract that," said O'Dowd.
"When you want to win a game you have to be able to adjust your game plan when it suits."