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Tuesday 26 September 2017

Wee to lack firepower against up-and-running Royals

BATTLE of the Boyne II? Well, maybe not quite: O'Byrne Cup quarter-finals don't possess the same potential for controversy as Leinster finals refereed by certain unnamed Tyrone officials and, besides, the tension that might otherwise have engulfed this fixture was probably defused by their qualifier rematch last summer.

For all that, Meath versus Louth is a spicy local derby where passions run deep and that's before we even factor in any lingering ill-will in the Louth camp over 'Sluddengate'.

The history books will tell you that Meath 'won' that Leinster final 18 months ago. There were no asterisks attached to last year's 'back door' renewal -- Cian Ward and his spectacular four-goal haul made sure of that.

Ward wasn't involved last weekend as the Royals launched their season with a 1-13 to 1-10 win over Wexford. Observers were struck by how a team shorn all of their marquee forwards bar Graham Reilly literally hit the ground running at Páirc Tailteann, scoring seven points within 13 minutes -- no sign of any ring-rust there after the winter training moratorium.

The home side subsequently allowed Wexford regain a foothold but a 50th minute goal from rangy full-forward Tom Walsh (who left his calling card with a 1-3 haul) effectively sealed victory.

As for tomorrow, manager Seamus McEnaney has already indicated that his new selector, Graham Geraghty, will be part of the match-day squad and "in the hat" to see game-time.

There aren't too many 38-year-old 'comeback kids' in the Louth team, but manager Peter Fitzpatrick has included five senior debutants in an experimental line-up -- goalkeeper Dwayne Crosby, full-back David Collier, wing-forwards Cathal Bellew and Eoin O'Connor, plus Ronan Holdcroft at top of the left.

The team retains a fair smattering of experience in defence and midfield, where 2010 All Star Paddy Keenan will seek to provide much of their attacking thrust.

However, they are missing some big performers up front and the fact that Meath already have a game in the tank should swing the tie in their favour.

ODDS: Meath 1/3, Draw 15/2, Louth 11/4

VERDICT: Meath

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