herald

Saturday 25 March 2017

Royal progress depends on flying start as Lilies seek to consolidate

Meath manager Andy McEntee.
Meath manager Andy McEntee.

A new manager is always given a certain grace period, and so it will be for Andy McEntee as he tries to restore the good times to Meath football after a 15-year slump punctuated by the occasional false dawn.

Instant miracles don't happen. Certainly not in Dublin's Leinster fiefdom. Not even in Division 2 of the Allianz Football League.

Cian O'Neill can't expect the same levels of patience in 2017, given this is his second year in the Kildare cockpit.

Even as the 'Geezer' era slips further into history, and his starting team takes on an ever-more-youthful look, it's clear that O'Neill is aiming for a more settled line-up this year than last.

This can be seen from his team to face Meath in Páirc Tailteann tomorrow - 13 players who started the O'Byrne Cup semi-final against Dublin remain, and one of the changes has been enforced by injury to Fionn Dowling.

Kildare manager Cian O’Neill.
Kildare manager Cian O’Neill.

Still, their second half fadeout against a third-string Sky Blue collective prompted fears that some old Lilywhite failings remain.

Karl O'Dwyer, the former Kildare All Star, was worried by what he saw in Newbridge, especially the glut of heedless second half turnovers.

"There didn't seem to be any patience on the ball. They were looking for the impossible ball a lot of the time, whereas Dublin were a lot more measured in their play," O'Dwyer reflected.

Kicked on

"I know it's January, you can't get too excited about it ... but in the position they were in you would have hoped they would have kicked on."

That said, with Eamonn Callaghan and the currently sidelined Emmet Bolton the last two veterans standing, O'Dwyer is backing O'Neill's youth policy. "They've had a lot of success in the sense that they've won Leinsters over the last three or four years (at underage)," the Kerry native pointed out.

"You'd be hoping they'd be able to kick on. If they can stay in Division 2 and put up a few good performances and get into the championship in reasonable fettle, that's what most people would be expecting from Kildare this year. But certainly going down to Division 3 would be a disaster."

Consolidation, thus, would seem a chief priority after last year's promotion. Meath have spent the past three years in Division 2, twice flirting with promotion and then relegation last year. If McEntee is to restore top-flight football for the Royals, then a flying home start against their Leinster rivals would appear imperative.

ODDS: Meath 8/11 Draw 15/2 Kilkenny 11/8 VERDICT: Meath

  • Meath v Kildare (Navan, Tomorrow 2.0)

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