Kevin Reilly has had to overcome too many obstacles to allow Meath lie down against Dublin
Having seen off two career-threatening injuries, the Meath full back has a new lease of life
Kevin Reilly: The Meath man has had six intercounty managers since his debut in 2005. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
The first day Meath tossed Kevin Reilly out the door of the plane, he just about had time to check for a parachute. He was 19 years old and not long out of school. He was so slight that only a few months previously Seán Boylan had doubled over laughing one night at his self-confessed “feeble attempts to do some weights”. He was a boy, little more.
Yet here he was. Meath full-back. Wearing the number three shirt that, save for the occasional filler-in, had been passed from Mick Lyons to Martin O’Connell to Darren Fay over the course of the previous two decades. And wearing it in front of Hill 16 against the Dubs, a high summer crowd of 65,000-plus passing on their welcome. Gulp.
Reilly didn’t blink though. Wouldn’t do it. Not against anyone but especially not against Dublin. He more or less held serve against Conal Keaney, who only took him for a couple of points and a free as Pillar Caffrey’s side ground out a 1-12 to 1-10 win.
“What I remember most is the atmosphere,” he says. “The roar was incredible. We were playing into the Canal End in the first half so I had the Hill behind me, ringing in my ears from the start. But I’d a good tussle with Keaney that day. He hit a few points but I took my fair share of ball.”
In five championship meetings since, Reilly has only beaten Dublin once – yet he’s never seen them as anything more than equals. His heaviest defeat at their hands weighs in at just four points and even then it was after a replay in 2007. He knows full well that common thought has Meath taking a hiding tomorrow but no part of him even imagines that’s possible. There’s an utter Meathness about him that won’t allow it.
Dublin might be young, they might be fast, they might be a comet across the sky. But they don’t know the struggles he’s seen. They can’t know the miles he’s covered just to be back where he started.
They don’t know what it’s like to be told that for the next four months of your life, you will have to either lie on the flat of your back or stand up ramrod straight. That was the instruction that accompanied Reilly home from hospital in Christmas week of 2009. They shaved a slice off one of the discs in his lower back and told him he wasn’t to sit down until April.
“It meant that I had the Christmas dinner standing up that year,” he laughs. “My sister was doing Christmas dinner and I was standing up at the counter while the rest of them sat at the table. So I was a little bit away from them. Maybe I was happy enough!