Cian Ward remains out in the cold with Meath
Captain Donal Keogan not looking too far ahead but is confidence hard work will pay off
Meath’s captain for 2015 Donal Keogan is well aware Dublin are the team to beat in the Leinster Senior Football Championship. Photograph: James Crosbie/Inpho
Mick O’Dowd has not recalled former marksman Cian Ward to the Meath senior football panel for the 2015 season.
The 29-year-old Wolfe Tones club man had been a regular in the Meath forward line since 2006, with his accuracy and composure from placed balls and general play marking him out as one of the game’s most naturally talented forwards.
Yet a year into current manager Mick O’Dowd’s reign, in May 2013, Ward was one of seven players dropped from the panel as the manager tried to implement a faster running game upon his young squad.
Ward has made his desire to return to the panel clear from the onset yet despite displaying good form in the county championship he was overlooked for the Meath panel which began training earlier this month, raising question marks over his intercounty future outright at least as long as the current management remain in charge.
Consistent performersJamie Queeney
Worryingly for the seven-time All-Ireland winners, last summer’s championship exit to Armagh amassed only two points from play for the team’s starting six forwards.
Meanwhile, the team’s current captain Donal Keogan has confirmed that last year’s cruciate ligament victims Conor Gillespie and Eamonn Wallace have both returned to rehab training with the panel, and the latter is expected to feature at some point in the National Football League.
Wallace suffered his season-ending injury last March while Gillespie suffered his setback three months later in June.
“Yeah we’ve a few injuries,” said Keogan. “Wally is back doing a bit, both of them are back in rehab actually. I think Conor Gillespie is a bit further down the road but Wally is looking at some game time in the league, to be back fit and have some game time behind him for the championship.
“He was flying it but he’s young and he’ll bounce back – and Conor too he’d be a big figure for us in the middle of the field. To lose them two was a big blow.
“We’ve had a couple of retirements (Brian Meade and Eoghan Harrington) now as well this year and they’re experienced players, but it’s an opportunity for other lads to step up. Hopefully that’s it though (for the retirements), it’s a pretty young panel and we’ve age on our side but you need to merge age and experience at the same time.”
Meath have lost out to Dublin in the last three consecutive Leinster finals, with last year’s meeting being arguably the least competitive of the three. For Keogan, though, regardless of the final score there’s always very little between the two teams and last year was no different.
“It’s hard to know, it’s very small, it’s the bounce of a ball here and there between us.
“Last year I suppose we got a bit unlucky and you can’t be leaking goals against Dublin. I think the last two years we leaked two goals at crucial times, before half-time.
Bit of luck
“With all the lads pulling in the same direction next year I’ve no doubt all that stuff with the hard work we’re doing now, there’s no reason why we can’t beat them.”
The team captain, at just 23, insists that despite the obvious hurdle Dublin represent they will be “taking each weekend as it comes in 2015. Then we’ll have pre-season for championship but we’ll only be looking at the first game in that – it’s all sequential really, just taking it a game at a time.”
One thing that Meath fans can rely on in 2015 is for that their young captain, for one, will remain focused on their ambitious targets. Remarkably he was unable to break into the county’s minor team less than five years ago.
“I was on the Meath minor panel all right but I just didn’t get games. I don’t know, maybe, I just wasn’t up to it at the time, different players develop at different times.
“Pat Coyle was the manager at minor and yeah by right I probably wasn’t fit for it but I got a few minutes in a couple of games here and there. And then I just knuckled down to make an under-21 panel and then from there I just grew.”