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Shane O'Rourke set to come full circle

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Shane O'Rourke, Meath

Shane O'Rourke, Meath

Shane O'Rourke, Meath

AGAINST Carlow, Meath midfielder Shane O'Rourke quietly reintroduced himself to championship football.

As it turned out, the game was championship in name only. Meath hit seven goals in a rout, but everything about Sunday's game with Kildare will have a championship feel. The venue, the opposition and the rivalry will ensure that O'Rourke will know if he really has recovered from a spate of injuries that might have ended a promising career.

The fixture brings things full circle for O'Rourke who, before the Carlow game, hadn't played in the championship for Meath since the 2011 defeat to the Lillies.

Since then, injury has shadowed him, but Meath have been patient. In December 2012, he travelled with the squad to a challenge game but another setback and a cautious approach meant he didn't feature for the county side until this year, though he was close to a comeback towards the end of last season.

"He was doing a huge amount of rehab," manager Mick O'Dowd explained.

COMFORTABLE

"Really the first step with it was just getting comfortable with the club. If we'd got over Tyrone at that stage in the championship last year, he would have come in then because he had a good number of club matches under his belt at that stage.

"In terms of player welfare and development, we'd have a long-term view to a lot of the stuff we're doing."

His cousin and Meath goalkeeper, Paddy O'Rourke, had a front-row seat for much of his comeback and was full of praise for how he has recovered.

"I've seen what he's gone through to get back to this point," he said.

"It was kind of weird for the last year or two, getting texts off him saying, 'best of luck for the weekend, give it socks'. You're reading that and thinking what he'd give to be on the bus and what he'd give to be in the dressing-room. Getting him back is a plus for him and for all the family. The thing now is to make sure he's back for good.

"He did a lot of pre-season and rehab in the early part of 2013 and the injury just popped up again. He had to go and get it right.

"There's been a lot of hurdles in his way. It would have been easy for him to throw his hat at it and say, 'I'll struggle on and just get a bit of a club career out of it,' but he's gone about it the right way. He's back now and getting his body into the shape that he's in for the senior championship, it's brilliant to see."

He's featured regularly in midfield, but according to former team-mate Anthony Moyles he is better deployed further forward. That seems unlikely this weekend given Conor Gillespie's long-term absence, but it's one of a number of important decisions Meath have to make.

Mickey Newman's absence means the Royals are without their talisman and free-taker with Dalton McDonagh, David Bray and Donal Lenihan in line for a call-up.

Dead-ball duties could fall to O'Rourke, Andy Tormey or Stephen Bray, while Bryan Menton's availability offers another option at half back or midfield against a Kildare side who looked rejuvenated against Louth.

"You're going from playing a Division 4 team to a Division 1 team; the pace obviously is the big difference that you normally see," O'Dowd warned.

"The pace and the quality of tackling that you normally see from teams like Kildare is where you see the difference between the top eight and below that.

"As I would see it, a lot of the players that were there over the last five or six years are still there. There's a few new exciting players through as well. They've always been a pretty consistent team, so we know what's ahead of us."


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