Fresh faces at the helm hope for new eras for Meath and Wexford
O’Dowd and O’Brien seem to be up to the task of renewing their side’s fortunes
Wexford manager Aidan O’Brien: has a big task taking over after Jason Ryan’s five year term. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Aidan O’Brien and Mick O’Dowd are hardly names that ring out across the national GAA stage. Of course, the O’Brien in question is not the much feted horse racing trainer rather the Wexford football manager.
O’Dowd is well known inside Co Meath, especially in his native Skryne, having led them to a county title in 2004.
On Sunday the pair of them will make their first foray under the shadow of the Hogan Stand as intercounty bainisteoirs.
“Aidan’s been knocking around the county for years now,” said Wexford’s veteran forward Redmond Barry. “He’s been involved with underage teams. He hasn’t had this job up until now because he hasn’t been able to give it the time and that’s the sort of man he is, unless he can give it 100 percent he’s not going to take it just for the sake of doing it. He’s probably turned up the opportunity a couple of times not knowing if it would actually come back and if he’d get the opportunity, but it was offered to him and the time was right and he took it.
‘Assess where we are’
“We played some great football in the league and we played some awful football in the same half of football never mind the same game, but all said and done, when the year is over only then will we be able to assess where we are.”
Following Jason Ryan’s five year term is a difficult task for O’Brien. Following Séamus ‘Banty’ McEnaney is less taxing for O’Dowd.
Being the fifth Meath manager in seven years is a genuine concern but the faceless delegates are less likely to knee jerk react to defeat on Sunday as they did to every dip in fortune McEnaney encountered.
Anyway, kicking 1-17 when defeating Wicklow in Aughrim temporarily calmed the raft of delegates that packed into a very argumentative portakabin in Navan last year for the failed coup d’état of Banty (when Seán Boylan’s second coming was shelved).
“At the start of the year there was a huge amount of change,” said O’Dowd this week. “All of us coming in, new players coming in, we’d a target of getting out of Division Three, having been relegated in 2012.”
Hence, the attempted beheading of McEnaney.
“There was a few hairy results along the way, as you know, but we had the lads well briefed that it wouldn’t be plain sailing.”
There certainly has been change. Joe Sheridan and Brian Farrell are still major players within the panel but have had to get used to not starting; the theory put to O’Dowd being that, like Jim McGuinness in Donegal, he wants to finish with his strongest 15 players on the field.
“We’re trying to create a really competitive squad and I think we’ve done that. That just means on certain occasions fellas don’t start. Everyone in our squad has really bought into that. It’s evolved since we took over. If you get your opportunity be ready for it. Take it.”
“They are really cohesive forward unit that has a good telepathy with one other,” said O’Dowd before adding, “They are very strong midfield with good exciting attacking wing backs that can score and then a solid fullback line and centre back so they’ve plenty.”
That pretty much covers that.
Wexford have also undergone plenty of change in recent times although, as Barry explains, not so sudden or dramatic a blood-letting to be considered a critical.
“Eric Bradley is the only one unavailable from last year’s panel, he’s emigrated to Australia. We’ve been very lucky that way. We’ve lost very few players to emigration, and retirements, Philip Wallace, Paddy Colfer, Mattie (Forde), these lads went in dribs and drabs, we never got hit with a massive group of lads retiring at the one time.”
Meanwhile, Cavan manager Terry Hyland has named the same starting XV that beat Fermanagh for Saturday’s Ulster football semi-final against Monaghan.
CAVAN (SFC v Monaghan): C Gilsenan; J McLoughlin, R Dunne, K Clarke; J McEnroe, A Clarke (capt), R Flanagan; D O’Reilly, D Givney; C Mackey, J Brady, F Flanagan; N McDermott, M Dunne, E Keating.
MONAGHAN (SFC v Cavan): R Beggan, D Mone, D Wylie, C Walshe, V Corey, N McAdam, K Duffy, O Lennon, D Hughes, S Gollogly, P Finlay, D Clerkin, C McGuinness, K Hughes, C McManus.
ARMAGH (SFC v Wicklow): P McEvoy; P McKeown, B Donaghy, J Morgan; A Kernan, Ciaran McKeever, M Shields; J Lavery, S Harold; C Rafferty, K Dyas, E Rafferty; J Clarke, T Kernan, E McVerry.