Former Meath captain Kevin Reilly rejects the resigned attitude of some players who left the panel this year and believes their decisions have cost the county.
Last November, goalkeeper Paddy O’Rourke quit, later explaining that Meath weren’t “getting any closer to where we want to go” and was pessimistic about the county’s future.
He said: “Winning Leinster again or challenging for an All-Ireland doesn’t look realistic any time soon, and in fact it feels like it farther away than ever.”
O’Rourke added that Dublin “are well out in front” and he was followed out the door before the championship by Seán Tobin, Brian Conlon, Harry Rooney, David Toner and Barry Dardis.
As Meath hope to put their Leinster quarter-final defeat to Longford behind them with a qualifier win over Tyrone in Navan tomorrow, Reilly is at a loss to understand why so many players have left the panel this season when he always considered playing for the county a privilege.
“The number of players who stepped away during the year couldn’t have been a good thing with all of that brings,” said the Navan O’Mahonys man, who retired through injury in 2015. “It’s a great honour to represent and having done so for 11 years if the body was right I’d have a go for another 11.
When you get the opportunity to do that, when you’re fortunate enough and good enough to be picked, you should regard it as an honour.
“Unfortunately, one or two others didn’t see it the same way.
Paddy O’Rourke in particular, and a few who had played a good bit of league football felt preparations were far from ideal.
“I can only speak for myself but if you’re fit and able it’s a huge honour to represent your county when so many others can’t or are not able to do so. Mickey Burke, I think, is going into his 14th season — we started together in 2005 — and I’m sure he’ll put his hand up again next year because he just loves it. That’s just the way it has to be.”
Being stuck firmly in Dublin’s shadow doesn’t help, Reilly knows, but giving up is not something he can reconcile with.
“Look, I do understand there are different lures for people and the commitment levels are huge but it’s about something bigger than just that for me. I definitely don’t agree with this attitude out there about this Dublin thing that ‘Ah sure, they’re too good, what’s the point?’ If you look at that as your motto for life then you won’t get very far. Not trying when something is hard to do, I just find that attitude hard to take.”
When players are seen to jump ship, the optics are obviously poor and Reilly suggests there was a sense of fatalism among fans going into the Longford game.
“Going into the Longford game, the Meath supporters weren’t 100% confident they would get over that hurdle and unfortunately they were proven right. Focus has to change quickly though and it’s going to be a fairly big ask against Tyrone but that’s the challenge.”
Tyrone themselves have lost players — Darren McCurry was yesterday confirmed as Chicago-bound for the summer — and Reilly is looking to Meath’s seasoned campaigners to upset the odds tomorrow.
“You’re looking for your leaders to step up. It’s like any qualifier in that regard. You’re looking to just get over the line by any means necessary and if you do that then you can try and build momentum.
“You’re looking at Donal Keogan, Mickey Burke, Bryan Mention, Graham Reilly, Brian McMahon and the Wallaces and Donal Lenihan. Meath have good footballers but they need to put in big performances all around.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved