herald

Monday 5 December 2016

Conor McKeon: Meath committed to youth policy

Royals look to longer term when selecting players who can prosper in Croker

Meath defender Padraic Harnan
Meath defender Padraic Harnan

TECHNICALLY, Meath's seasonal arrival in Croke Park should be the spark they require to light the fuse on their summer.

"A lot of the long-term building of this squad has been built around players that can perform in Croke Park in terms of mobility and pace," says Mick O'Dowd by way of explanation.

By way of example, he cites one of a number of lesser-known, fresher of face, players who have ample, perhaps unusually grand, experience of playing in the venue where Meath must thrive in order to meet O'Dowd's short, medium and long-term ambitions.

choppy

"Someone like Pádraic Harnan is going into his third Leinster SFC semi-final in Croke Park," he points out.

And he hasn't even turned 21 yet and there is a lot of experience there even with the younger players."

The counteraction to O'Dowd's proactive approach to the promotion of youth is the occasional sticky situation where Meath find themselves a little shy on sea legs on a choppy voyage.

A position O'Dowd has been a little too exposed to in his two-and-a-half years in charge due in part, to an unusually high number - and desperately unluckily timed - spate of injuries.

In this regard, O'Dowd fielded four Championship debutants in his defence against Wicklow in the Leinster quarter-final and while they never really looked like losing that match, Wicklow's strident refusal to simply give up mixed with Meath's panicky lapses at the back made it a decidedly less enjoyable Sunday afternoon for the home support.

"At the end of the day we did win a championship match with an inexperienced side," O'Dowd points out, drawing a pragmatic line under the inherent pessimism that that performance spawned.

"There were a few things forced on us because of injuries, but those new players had come through the league and had come through a couple of competitive challenge matches against Roscommon and Galway.

"They had a lot of experience, not championship experience, but we felt they were ready to be given the opportunity.

"There was a little bit of nerves with some of them and that contributed to a display which they weren't happy with.

"They will be better for the experience, it is a policy of ours that if a player has done the work then they will be given the opportunity."

The end, in championship football, always justifies the means.

But O'Dowd will welcome Bryan Menton, Conor McGill and probably Mickey Burke back to his defence for Sunday's clash with Westmeath.

Even if the historical indicators aren't good for Westmeath, O'Dowd isn't inclined to pay much heed.

"The previous championship record against Westmeath counts for nothing inside our dressing room. All those stats and analysis are for other people to talk about and chat about, for us it is all about next Sunday.

focus

"We have an opportunity to get to a Leinster final and Westmeath are the team that we need to beat to do that and that is our total focus.

"When you get into the thick of championship football all you can do is try to win your next game.

"That can be your only focus at this time. Westmeath is all we can think about."

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