The return of Harry Rooney and the inclusion of David Gallagher are the big talking points as Meath senior football manager Andy McEntee revealed his panel for the O’Byrne Cup campaign with the first game away to Carlow at Dr Cullen Park on Wednesday 3rd January.
Other big surprises see Michael Newman, Donnacha Tobin and James Toher step away from the panel while McEntee also include goalkeepers Andy Colgan from Donaghmore/Ashbourne and Dunshaughlin’s Adam McDermott.
Newman’s decision to step away from the panel and Toher’s return to the senior hurling set-up under new manager Nick Fitzgerald adds to the list of players who are no longer involved in the panel including Paddy O’Rourke, Padraic Harnan, Ruiairi O Coileain, Ronan Jones and Jack Hannigan.
Rooney, who played in every game in 2016 before opting out last year to travel to Australia, is a huge boost to McEntee especially with the absense of Jones and Toher who both partnered Bryan Menton at midfield in 2017.
The retirement of O’Rourke has left a huge void in the goalkeeping position and his back-up Joe Sheridan has also decided to opt off the squad due to travel and work commitments. Those decisions have prompted McEntee to issue a surprise SOS to Dunboyne’s Gallagher who last played for Meath in 2012.
The 38-year-old Dunboyne man will be joined in the battle for the number one jersey by talented 2016 Meath minor goalkeeper McDermott while Colgan has also returned from Australia and is expected to link up with the panel this week.
McEntee includes nine players who have never featured for Meath before, while others like Ben Brennan, Paddy Kennelly, Seamus Lavin, Padraig McKeever, Dan O’Neill, Thomas O’Reilly and David Toner have only made rare appearance and will be hoping for more game time.
The 41-man panel includes Donal Lenihan and Eamon Wallace who are both short term injuries while Alan Forde is also likely to be included when he his fit and ready to return after suffering a cruciate knee ligament injury against Fermanagh in the 2017 NFL Div 2 clash at Pairc Tailteann.
McEntee has admitted to the Meath Chronicle that he has been frustrated in trying to entice players into the panel with some players unable to commit the time necessary to compete at the highest level, but the manager is happy with the group he has assembled and insists the work rate has been very impressive.