Joe Sheridan was shown the door — much to the 29-year old’s private frustration — along with Brian Farrell, Meath’s player of the year in 2012. Others were axed too. In all, O’Dowd has replaced half of his squad inside two years. It goes back to a fundamental belief 0he shared after succeeding Seamus McEnaney, that it should be extremely difficult to get a Meath jersey. Like it used to be in his day.
Halfway through O’Dowd’s second season, and on the eve of their Championship opener in Carlow, there is still much to do. His stated aim remains to become a top-eight Championship side.
To get there, the physical conditioning of some players will have to improve.
Developing an ability to ‘be able to play different types of football in different types of conditions’ is another O’Dowd pre-requisite. Meath did play two noticeably different ways against Dublin and Tyrone last summer.
But their failures at times in this year’s league campaign — chiefly against Monaghan and Armagh, and to a lesser extent when ‘only’ drawing with Donegal — proved they aren’t there yet. Central to the grand plan for reviving Meath is an investment in youth and speed. Eamonn Wallace, a sprinter away from Gaelic football, was teamed up with Mickey Newman in O’Dowd’s first season. Against Tyrone in the qualifiers, the pair scored 2-8 of Meath’s 2-9 tally. Wallace’s season ending knee injury means an extra responsibility has now fallen on Newman to deliver the change which O’Dowd and fans crave. If it is a burden, it is not at all apparent.
Newman’s club have just gone intermediate and he’s shaping up as another poster boy for big achievement from a humble base. His tweaked groin will be tested by medics tomorrow before Meath play Carlow in Dr Cullen Park but he expects to be okay. It is a tie Meath are also expected to win comfortably to move a step closer to their third Leinster final in a row, their fourth in five seasons.
Yet there is a feeling that success has rarely been so far away given Dublin’s total domination of their province.
“You can only learn and come back stronger each year,” said Newman.
CARLOW: P Coady; R Mahon, S Mernagh, B J Molloy; G Power, D St Ledger, B Kavanagh; H Gahan, D Foley; M Meaney, C Moran, D Bambrick; P Broderick, S Kinsella, C Coughlan.
MEATH: P O’Rourke; C Young, K Reilly, M Burke; P Harnan, D Keogan, D Carroll; B Meade, S O’Rourke; D Tobin, B McMahon, A Tormey; G Reilly, S Bray, M Newman.