Graham Reilly believes Meath can punch a hole deep into the All-Ireland championship by playing a traditional brand of open football at odds with the massed defences increasingly favoured in the modern game.
Mick O’Dowd’s side have bettered Wicklow and Wexford in the Leinster championship and scored 1-35 in the process with a style that bears no resemblance to some of the stultifying football being played elsewhere.
Ulster, in particular, has embraced the more pragmatic approach with even a previously free-flowing and exuberant Down side adopting the tactics to good effect against Donegal in Cavan last month.
Down forward Benny Coulter subsequently reiterated his conviction it was not football he would pay to watch, but Reilly believes it is far from the only means by which teams can prosper in the latter stages of the All-Ireland.
“I can see where Benny is coming from. Northern football, the way it has gone, you saw with Monaghan and Cavan that it wasn’t a pretty spectacle and, even though our game against Wexford probably wasn’t a high standard, it was still free-flowing. It’s great to watch and the likes of Dublin, Kildare and hopefully ourselves will be there in the latter stages and I don’t think it makes a difference if you play the blanket defence because eventually you will get caught out. Eventually teams have players that break that line. It is something that we are working on because it is something we are going to have to get used to in the latter stages of the competition.”
If Meath are to breach the defensive lines of such teams, or even a more open Dublin which they meet in a fortnight’s time in the Leinster final, then the odds are that Reilly will be the man spearheading the assault.
Against Wicklow and Wexford, it was the St Colmcille’s half-forward who caused panic in the rearguards by running at defenders at pace and his ability to win frees, set up scores and kick points is invaluable to his side.
Though he tracks back at times, Reilly’s checklist is unlike that of most modern wing-forwards, with selector and forwards coach Trevor Giles taking the understandable view that it is better to ask your best forward to be creative rather than destructive.
“We are trying to go back to the old tradition, if you like. Trevor likes to play with six forwards up front. The more forwards you have up front the more scores you will get and that has shown in the last two games with 1-17 against Wicklow and 18 [against Wexford]. That’s good scoring no matter what game you play so we are trying six on six. Obviously, at times myself Peadar [Byrne] and Damien [Carroll] are going to have to drop back but that is just the way the game has gone. Five and seven nearly aren’t defenders anymore.”
So central has Reilly become to Meath’s cause, in fact, that it is all too easy to forget that he has only been part of the panel since 2010 when he won a Leinster medal after that controversial defeat of Louth in the final.
Meath also lost a provincial decider to Dublin by three points 12 months ago and Reilly, speaking prior to Dublin’s win over Kildare, believes Meath can improve further on their two displays so far.
“I think we can. We have to remember that there are still a lot of young lads in this team but I do think we can make that step against [Dublin]. They won’t fancy playing Meath. No team does fancy playing us. That is an advantage that we always have, but we have to up our game. We had to up it from Wicklow and we did and now we have to up it another 20-30% for the final.”
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