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Tuesday 17 October 2017

Vital that Royals stay closer for longer if they are to threaten Dublin's dominance of Leinster

BEFORE peering forward, it's probably pertinent to look back. Just for posterity.

All this week, last year's Leinster final will serve as a sort of cultural reference point. Already Mick O'Dowd has used it as such.

In reflection, Meath remained relevant until roughly the 55 minute mark, even if they never looked fully capable of forcing the shock their 15/2 pre-match odds dictated such a result would be.

If they're in the same vicinity around 65 minutes in this coming Sunday, the Meath manager surmised, they have chance.

And form insists Meath have improved. The Kildare performance was inarguably the best and most significant of O'Dowd's era.

Plus, in that game a year ago yesterday, the Royals passed up five presentable goal chances to - in order - Stephen Bray, Damien Carroll, Eamon Wallace, Bray again and Mickey Newman.

calibrated

With nine goals bagged in two games this year, they look a team now fully calibrated to take more cutting advantage of the space this Dublin team tends to concede in their own defence.

Ergo, they should shadow Dublin into that final stretch, the one into which O'Dowd has compelled his players to last?

Yet when you look deeper into last year's Leinster final (which, by the way, Dublin won by seven points, 2-15 to 0-14) it's clear that a whole lot went right for Meath the day.

As has become something of a useful managerial trait, Mick O'Dowd got his match ups almost uniformly spot-on. And within that, Meath's big players thrived in some of the game's key battles.

Bray, granted ample space by the Dublin set-up and lots of quick, direct ball from the Meath midfield, bedevilled Rory O'Carroll, putting two points on the board within 90 seconds of one another.

Eventually, Jonny Cooper sort of quelled the panic.

Secondly, Kevin Reilly held Bernard Brogan to a point and, in the words of Brogan himself a couple of days later, "any time I got on the ball, I would have got the head knocked off me."

oxygen

Early on, Meath's oxygen came via a well-drilled opposition to Stephen Cluxton's kick-outs, where Conor Gillespie and particularly Brian Meade thrived.

And O'Dowd paired Eamonn Wallace with Jack McCaffrey in what was quite probably, the fastest individual duel in the history of Croke Park and also an effective anaesthetic to McCaffrey's forward marches.

So what's changed?

Meath have lost Wallace and Gillespie to a cruciate injuries. Ditto last year's Man of the Match, Ciarán Kilkenny, in Dublin's case.

Ger Brennan is out and Shane O'Rourke is back for Meath. But so is Alan Brogan for Dublin.

Yet if anything, Dublin's ability to accelerate in the closing passages has expanded.

"It was a very tight game," recalled Jim Gavin last week. "They contested heavily in midfield and took some fantastic scores.

"It was just a ding-dong battle. And I think we can expect the same next Sunday."

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