The Royals will begin their season at Navan tonight against UCD in the O’Byrne Cup and nine players will be making their debuts for the hosts.
The Leinster title, claimed by their minors of 2006, was the county’s first provincial success of any description in five years and two of that side’s cornerstones — corner back David Donegan and Eoin Reilly at midfield — have been drafted into the senior set-up.
Big things are predicted of Reilly, one of three players from IFC champions Donaghmore/Ashbourne to make the 15. Another of the rookies is Niall Farrell, a first cousin of Tyrone legend Peter Canavan. Currently working of a panel of 40 players, Coyle and his staff will cut the squad to a less unwieldy number at the end of the month. How many of the new recruits play a part when push comes to shove later on in the season is another thing.
Some have clearly been earmarked for 2009 rather than 2008 but the management team is nevertheless eager to see who sinks and who swims.
“We’ll be giving youth its fling for this game,” said selector Dudley Farrell who, along with Tommy Dowd, is back with Coyle this season.
“It’s the time of year to be doing it and, depending on the result and whether we’re still in the cup or the shield, we’ll decide on what sort of a team to put out after that.”
Four ‘veterans’ will act as the glue to keep the side together this evening. Darren Fay is at full-back, Cormac McGuinness and Caoimhin King will join him on the defensive duties while Mark Ward will pivot in midfield.
Another glut of old hands are speckled on the bench if the situation demands, while Anthony Moyles and Nigel Crawford, though they are training with the panel, have been excused duty and will take in the game in civvies.
Four others, including Shane O’Rourke, are cup-tied due to college commitments while Farrell’s son, Brian, is currently recovering from injury and will play no part in the O’Byrne Cup.
“Brian has tight hamstrings. He went to Gerry McEntee who put him on a two-month programme. He told him not to do any running for the two months but we would expect him to be back for the start of the league. His fitness will be another thing though.”
Meath’s hopes of building on last year’s run to the All-Ireland semi-final were boosted immediately after that disappointing defeat to Cork when Graham Geraghty confirmed his intention to return to the fold. The talismanic forward is not expected to play any part in the O’Byrne Cup but Farrell is looking forward to availing of his services in league and championship.
“Graham has been in training with us but he is concentrating on the Junior All-Ireland final with Clan na Gael. They are playing the Tyrone champions Rock at the end of the month but he’ll be with us full-time after that.”