Mick O’Dowd puts no stock in Meath’s historical dominance

Those who partitioned Meath from Westmeath around 500 years ago didn’t do the Lake County any favours, not in Gaelic football terms at least.

Mick O’Dowd puts no stock in Meath’s historical dominance

Approaching the counties’ 23rd Championship meeting, the scoreboard couldn’t be any more lopsided - Meath have never been beaten.

Westmeath did famously collect a provincial title in 2004 under Páidí Ó Sé. They came mightily close in that golden era to ending the Royals’ winning streak too with Championship stalemates in 2001 and 2003. In fact, in that latter game, Westmeath’s Dessie Dolan missed a 20-metre free from in front of the posts to win the game.

And so the greatest chance of all to beat the old enemy was lost. Meath hammered Westmeath in the replay and repeated the dose in their last meeting, a 2009 qualifier.

The situation is only slightly more palatable for Westmeath in league terms. From their 29 meetings - the most recent a big win for Meath in March - Meath have won all but seven.

One would imagine then that the safe money would go on yet another Meath win at Croke Park tomorrow. Meath boss Mick O’Dowd reckons that history is bunk, however, and that form is what really matters.

Westmeath are the ones leading the way on that score after impressive wins over Wexford and Louth. Meath stumbled past the challenge of Wicklow, the joint worst team in the land based on league placings.

“The previous Championship record against Westmeath counts for nothing inside our dressing room,” maintained O’Dowd.

“All those stats and analysis are for other people to talk about and to chat about. For us, it is all about this one game. We have an opportunity to get to a Leinster final and Westmeath are the team we need to beat to do that. That is our total focus, not what has gone on in the past.”

If it seems like typical managerial speak, consider that O’Dowd has also shaken up his team to make doubly sure there’s no slip-ups. Brian Power had a difficult debut at full-back against Wicklow and is replaced by Ratoath clubmate Conor McGill, also a debutant.

Mickey Burke and Bryan Menton come into the half-back line while Kevin Reilly is a surprise starter at midfield. The Navan man is a specialist full-back but has apparently overcome hip trouble to partner rising star Harry Rooney in the middle.

Up front, Mickey Newman is fit again so comes into the full-forward line, as does speedy Bryan McMahon. Whether it’s the right mix to extend Meath’s proud record against Westmeath will be clear on Sunday. Playing in Croke Park should be an advantage.

“You certainly change your tactics in terms of the opposition but not necessarily because you are playing in Croke Park,” argued O’Dowd. “In fairness, Pairc Tailteann is similar in that it’s a big wide pitch.

“A lot of the long-term building of this squad has been around players that can perform at Croke Park too, in terms of mobility and pace. So we are definitely looking forward to getting back there.

“Take a fella like Padraic Harnan, at this stage he’s going into his third Leinster semi-final at Croke Park and he hasn’t even turned 21. So there is a lot of experience there of big games at Croke Park.”

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