Cullen’s switch from Leinster Rugby was announced last week but Lillis has intimated too much has been made of the news. “Every county has got a strength and conditioning coach,” he said.
“Bryan Cullen is high profile because he works with Leinster and he is a former Dublin footballer, former All-Ireland winning captain. Bryan Cullen is not going to be waving a magic wand with Dublin. I don’t think anybody is expecting him to do that.”
Lillis yesterday saw his Laois team hit by two late Meath goals in Navan to deny them an O’Byrne Cup semi-final spot. Those scores meant Meath took their place in the last four and they will face Louth away next Sunday.
Dublin was also on the mind of Meath manager Mick O’Dowd when he was asked to reflect on why both teams in Páirc Tailteann jettisoned the sweeper tactic to provide an open, entertaining affair. “The All-Ireland champions don’t really drop a man back. Cian O’Sullivan plays an important role at centre-back, like a sweeper, with other defensive formations happening out the field to compensate for him doing that. But, in general, I don’t think the top teams are having a wing-forward sprinting back and playing with seven defenders.”
Those late goals from substitute Mickey Newman and man-of-the-match Graham Reilly gave lie to what was a competitive game throughout. With his eighth point, the influential Donie Kingston had only put Laois within a point of Meath with over a minute of normal time to be played when the Royals struck 2-1 in quick fashion.
Backed by a first-half wind, Laois were 0-9 to 0-7 to the good at half-time but Meath then hit four consecutive points.
Kingston levelled the game for a sixth time in the 53rd minute. However, the next three scores were Meath’s.
After a Kingston brace of points had made it a one-point game once more, the urgency in Meath’s play was apparent not just because of the threat posed by Laois but the news of UCD’s heavy lead over Carlow IT that had been relayed to the players. A one-point win would not have been sufficient.
“Just in the last five minutes we started tuning in to what was happening between UCD and Carlow,” revealed O’Dowd.
“We felt we needed a goal or two at the time so we went for them. Actually, a couple of points’ victory would have done it. The wind died in the second half. We maybe regretted going against the breeze in the first half. We maybe took a pass too many at times.”
Laois had come into the game knowing a win would see them through to a semi-final but Lillis wasn’t despondent. “It was a great work-out for us. They needed the scores at the end to get through. The win wasn’t going to be enough and they piled on the pressure and got the scores.”
G Reilly (1-4); S Tobin (0-5, 4 frees); M Newman (1-0, free); C O’Sullivan, D Lenihan (0-2 each); H Rooney, A Douglas, D Keogan (0-1 each).
D Kingston (0-8, 5 frees); P Cahillane (0-2, 1 free); E Costello, N Murphy, G Walsh, G Dillon (0-1 each).
P O’Rourke; N Judge, D Keogan, B Tormey; A Douglas, M Burke, J O’Reilly; H Rooney, G Reilly; S Tobin, C O’Sullivan, D Smyth; M Battersby, D McDonagh, D Lenihan.
C Downey for C O’Sullivan (47); M Newman for M Battersby (52); S McEntee for D Smyth (57); P Geraghty for J O’Reilly (59); P Kennelly for S Tobin (65).
G Brody; D Seale, M Timmons, P Cotter; A Farrell, G Dillon, D Strong; J O’Loughlin, J Farrell; D O’Reilly, D Kingston, N Murphy; P Cahillane, E Costello, G Walsh.
T Collins for D Strong (33); K Meaney for J O’Reilly (44); D O’Connor for N Murphy (48); R O’Connor for G Walsh (57); K Lillis for P Cotter (black, 59); M Scully for P Cahillane (65).
F Kelly (Longford).