IT’S on to headquarters on Sunday for the last eight clash. Meath are in opposition. A team who have been hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons in recent times.
The Royals have no selectors following the resignation of both Barry Callaghan and Liam Harnan last week, they were dealt a major injury blow in a recent challenge against Galway in Mullingar and their league form left a lot to be desired.
So preparation for Sunday’s encounter has been far from ideal but nobody, especially in Kildare, is writing off Meath. To do so would be foolish.
Kieran McGeeney’s Kildare had an easy time of it during their preliminary round meeting with Wicklow. They were seven points to the good by the time the long whistle was sounded and that winning margin should have been a lot bigger had it not been for some poor wides and short efforts.
Wicklow, in short, were dire and although Meath don’t seem to be in good form lately they simply cannot be anywhere near as bad as Micko’s men.
The Lilies’ showing in O’Moore Park over a week ago might not have set the world alight but considering the first round statistics for Kildare in recent years it was most satisfactory. When things weren’t working out McGeeney was quick to change it and he eventually got it right.
Starting Johnny Doyle in midfield turned out to be a genius move by the Armagh man but had the captain not performed so splendidly it could have been described as a silly move. The world of championship football can be a fickle one indeed.
Now the likelihood of the Allenwood club man starting in the middle against Meath is slim especially considering Daryl Flynn could be back available for selection. Kildare will need a man in the middle that can field high balls against Meath and Flynn is the man for that job, most likely alongside Hughie Lynch, who acquitted himself very well against Wicklow. However, reports emanating from the panel this week suggests that Flynn is no where near ready for a return to action.
Flynn’s return would be most welcome but a return that’s an even bigger welcome is the one of Mikey Conway. The Nurney man lined out for the juniors in their provincial clash against Louth last Wednesday and everyone was delighted to see him back after a torturous two years. However, if folks are hoping to see the Nurney man on the hallowed turf of Croke Park on Sunday they might be sorely disappointed. The likelihood of Conway starting or even making an appearance is slim but if victory is secured, one never knows, he just might well play a part in this year’s championship.
Doyle might be unlikely to hang on to his place in the middle but Tomas O’Connor could very well keep a hold of the full forward position. The Clane club man was a great addition to the forward line, he caused huge problems for the Wicklow rearguard and he worked really well alongside Alan Smith, another player that looks to be coming back to his best.
The experiment of playing Brian Flanagan in the half forward line didn’t work. McGeeney was quick to change it when he replaced the Johnstownbridge man with Eamonn Callaghan after just 30 minute and indeed Flanagan could miss out for Sunday. It appears the half back line of White, O’Flaherty and Bolton is the best option and will be probably be the same again on Sunday. Morgan O’Flaherty fulfills the sweeper roll with aplomb, it’s not broken so it doesn’t need fixing.
Similarly the full back line against the Garden boys performed well. Wicklow’s biggest threat was their inside forward line and even though they had an off day Kildare curtailed them extremely well. McLoughlin, Foley and McGrillen all look as save as proverbial houses to hold on to their places for Sunday, barring injury of course.
Both Padraig O’Neill and Ronan Sweeney were off form against Wicklow and their places could be in doubt, while Eoghan O’Flaherty is carrying a groin injury, which forced him off early in Portlaoise. Smith and O’Connor’s form could see them hang on to their places, while Doyle should make a return to the forward line, as could James Kavanagh.
Meath have major worries about their defence and news coming from the Royal County suggests that Eoin Harrington is out for the remainder of the summer. The Wolfe Tones’ man picked up an injury in the Royals challenge win over Galway in Mullingar last week, while it is also reported that Cormac McGuinness has withdrawn from the panel.
During that 0-10 to 0-8 victory over the Tribesmen Graham Geraghty made a return to the inter county scene with a substitute appearance. The 38-years-old returns after a three year sabbatical from the Meath set up and has caused major controversy in the Royal County.
The resignation of Harnan and Callaghan came supposedly after they weren’t consulted by team manager Seamus McEnaney on the return of Clann na Gael club man.
The Meath county board met last week following the resignation of the two selectors and stipulated that McEnaney must replace the pair with another two Royal natives but it is not clear whether or not this will be done before Sunday’s quarter final clash. At present the two front runners for the job are Pat Coyle the current Meath junior boss and Kit Henry, former junior manager and former manager of Louth club side Mattock Rangers.
For now though County Board chairman Barney Allen and secretary Cyril Creavin will step in.
Back to on the field action however. Meath’s challenge against Galway saw a return to form of Stephen Bray. The Navan O’Mahony’s man missed out on Meath’s dismal National Football League Division 2 campaign because of his three month long honeymoon and was not on form when he returned to action for his club. However, the corner forward now seems to be hitting form when it matters most.
Meath’s biggest threat of course is in attack with the likes of Bray, Cian Ward, Joe Sheridan and Graham Reilly and the Lilies will have to be on form if they want to curtail them.
There can be no doubting that Kildare won’t have things as easy on Sunday as they did against Wicklow in O’Moore Park. That’s a given.
Meath, despite their current problems, are a better side than Micko’s team. A wounded animal is a dangerous thing. Of course the prize is a semi final meeting with Dublin, if the boys from the capital do what’s expected of them against Laois and Leinster champions Meath would like nothing better than another stab are their bitter, bitter rivals.
Moral is low in Meath. Very low. Kildare have the benefit of game behind them. It won’t be as easy as last year but one expects the Lilies to come out on top.