Reilly is rated as one of the game’s top full-backs but has been plagued by injuries, the latest a hip issue that limited him to just two outings in the Allianz league.
Manager O’Dowd said the frustrating thing for the four-time Leinster finalist is that he’s in ‘great shape’ but aggravates the hip problem each time he plays and then spends ‘a week to 10 days not being able to do anything.’ Asked if he realistically has to plan without last year’s captain indefinitely at this stage, O’Dowd nodded.
“Yes. Kevin has given such service to Meath, he’s such an incredible fella inside the Meath dressing-room. It’s as much hoping he can come back for himself. But in terms of us, I’d be looking at him as a bonus if he was back playing rather than checking in before every game to see if he’s right.
Unfortunately for O’Dowd, Reilly is one of a handful of key players who will miss Sunday’s provincial quarter-final with Wicklow.
“There are three fellas in casts, bizarrely; Bryan Menton, Mickey Newman and Shane O’Rourke,” continued O’Dowd. “They all broke fingers. One was in a club game (O’Rourke), one was in training (Newman) and one was in the warm up to a challenge game with Cavan (Menton). The other two lads injured would be Conor Gillespie and obviously Kevin, they are out of the equation as well.”
Goalkeeper Paddy O’Rourke is at last fit after a minor knee issue while Meath’s Division 2 campaign yielded a gem in Ratoath’s Conor McGill who is primed to fill the full-back position in Reilly’s continued absence.
“He’s stepped up to that task very well,” said O’Dowd of McGill.
“After the Leinster U-21 final last year, Conor was asked into the squad but had already planned to go away for the summer. Basically as soon as he came back he was brought into the senior squad. He’s 22 and he’s done really well.”
Despite O’Dowd’s caution with a young, injury hit panel, he said Meath retain lofty ambitions.
“The obvious next target for us is to break into that top six,” said O’Dowd, whose side narrowly missed out on promotion to Division 1.
“The night in Newry we went up with a full squad and we produced a big performance under pressure, coming from a defeat the previous Sunday.
For every manager, it is his wish to be going with a full squad into your big games. We’ve yet to do that but hopefully soon we’ll do it.”