For a brief period in the early to mid ‘90s, this corner flirted with the idea of getting involved in the local soccer scene. There, it’s out there now! It was mostly due to the fact that my brother in law Kieran began playing with the club here in Dunboyne. And under the astute management of Liam Knox they enjoyed some of the most successful seasons seen in the club.
Totally deserting the GAA was never really on the cards though. So, the result was a busy period of dual sports viewing. Several Sundays were spent taking in a soccer match in the morning before traipsing off to whatever corner of the country Meath were in action. In either the O’Byrne Cup or National League.
Two in particular stand out. They just happened to be consecutive. Not much is recalled about the actual games, aside from the weather being deplorable and Laois beating Sean Boylan’s side in the two matches. Recent events have, however, brought those two low profile fixtures back into focus.
Colm Brady lined out at centre half back in both. From memory, Sean Kelly played midfield, while two young lads by the names of Trevor Giles and Mick O’Dowd were also getting their first taste of the scene at the time. With all four men the similarities are striking.
O’Dowd and Giles both got their initial managerial grounding with their native Skryne. Kelly and Brady each had potentially brilliant careers blighted by injury nightmares. Though truncated, Brady made a massive impact while he was playing. Firstly being the standout player on the team that won the NFL and Leinster SFC in 1990. Then by returning to make a telling impact in the successful 1996 campaign. He was also pivotal to many of Simonstown’s greatest days.
Kelly was a key player when Dunderry defeated Dunboyne to win the IFC in 1990 and conquered Kilmainhamwood to capture the Keegan Cup five seasons thereafter. Injury probably forced him into management sooner than he ever intended but since arriving in that sphere his impact has been marked.
Initially cutting his teeth guiding a very talented Dunderry bunch to three U-21 FC titles in a row, he went on to form part of a successful triumvirate with Dudley Farrell and Sean Barry that oversaw a Leinster MFC success and had no luck at U-21. Kelly is also well travelled on the club scene. His most notable feat was in 2008 when – along with Barry – he guided O’Mahonys to the SFC.
Mick O’Dowd was, admittedly, to me at least, a surprise choice as manager. Simply because he didn’t have the profile of some of the other candidates. Using that as a detractor doesn’t wash though. Sean Boylan was better known as a hurling man before the reins were given to him. And we all know how that turned out!
If anything, many going for a management job would love to have O’Dowd’s CV. During his sole foray into managing, he guided Skryne to a SFC and a decent run in Leinster. All in all, it looks an attractive setup. Maybe most encouraging is the early indication that – allied to having good people around – the new boss is going to be very much his own men.
That statement might seem a bit of a contradiction but it’s all about context. What’s meant is that O’Dowd has already asserted that he won’t be holding trials, as seems to be a fad in most counties. Bringing players in based on their club form and letting them play collectively in challenge games. Of course, this is now possible due to the easing of what was a ridiculously stringent winter training hiatus.
More pleasing about what Mick has mooted is a desire to return to what has always been Meath’s more traditional style. That the game has evolved is unquestionable. Donegal ended up as deserving champions having changed things at the coalface. It was hardly coincidence, either, that Mayo, who ended up closest to them, were strikingly similar. There’s no need to adopt a ‘sheep going out a gap’ stance to it though.
One thing that is certain – and it’s surprising more haven’t copped onto it – is that the long ball over the top is one method of negating the new way. For years, Meath teams profited from doing that. Meath teams have always had good forwards and that still holds true. The new style is not totally alien to Meath. Back in the day, David Beggy, PJ Gillic and Colm Coyle were often deployed defensively when notionally attackers. Key to such a system – similar to beating the blanket defence – is letting the ball do the work. As recently as in the Meath SFC semi finals O’Mahonys proved this when defeating Donaghmore/Ashbourne.
What are realistic expectations for the new regime? In one sense, one could say their task is onerous. Gaining promotion in the NFL must surely be a minimum requirement. Taken from another angle though, there’s plenty of reason for hope. Remember, it’s not that long ago since the Delaney Cup was here!
Many of the same players are still available and, while an infusion of talent is certainly needed, the capacity to find them exists. Now starts always brings a certain amount of optimism. Let’s wish these lads well, get behind them and hope for the best.