Lack of medals is a huge regret

In part two of the interview Graham Reilly reflects on his happiest memories in a Meath jersey, his biggest regret from his 12 years playing with Meath and what he believes the future holds for the county's footballers.

Over his 12 years as a mainstay of the Meath attack Reilly has plenty of happy memories, but he also has one major regret - he didn't win enough medals.

"I remember fondly the day in 2011 when Seamus McEnaney was in charge and we had to get a point against Tyrone to stay up in Div 2. I was only back from injury, but I kicked four points in the second-half including the one that kept us up in the end, so that game always sticks in my mind even though I wasn't at full fitness," remembered Reilly.

"I was meant to be out for six weeks with injury that time, but I rushed back and I was back starting that game after just three weeks, so that is a special game for me.

"2010 and 2012 were probably the two best years I had in the green jersey. In 2012 I was the top scorer from play in the country and I was nominated for an Allstar. In 2010 I was also nominated for an Allstar and I was nominated for the young player-of-the-year as well, so they were great honours.

"Not winning medals is a huge regret. If you want to be considered as a Meath great you are judged by how many All-Ireland medals you have won, how many Leinster titles you have, how many player-of-the-year awards you pick up, but unfortunately we didn't win much in my time.

"I look back at 2010 with particular regret because we had a really good side at that time and we found ourselves in a position after winning the Leinster title where we had to beat Kildare and Down to get to an All-Ireland final where we would have played Cork.

"I know Cork were flying that year, but 2010 was a huge opportunity for us to win an All-Ireland that was missed. The year before that, in 2009, Kerry beat us by a few points in an All-Ireland semi-final, so that was another huge missed opportunity.

"People think that Meath haven't been around the big stage for ages and ages, but back then we were in two All-Ireland semi-finals and should have made another one, all between 2007 and 2011, so those are huge regrets.

"The biggest disappointment is having only one Leinster medal for the 12 years I was there. When I first went into the squad we were in two All-Ireland semi-finals and we won a Leinster, I was only a young lad and I thought this was the way it was always going to be because this was the Meath way.

"As a young lad I watched the great Meath teams win All-Irelands in 1996 and '99 and reach another final in 2001, so when we started going close from 2007 I thought we were back, so to win just one Leinster is disappointing. We made a few Leinster finals alright, but with the exception of 2012 we never really ran Dublin close."

So with his days in the green and gold over, what's next for Reilly and does he believe that Meath football can get back to the glory days of winning provincial and All-Ireland titles again?

"All my focus in on the club now. 2020 was poor year for me with the club. I want to put it down to Covid because I wasn't working for four or five months and I had myself driven demented and like a lot of other people I didn't know what to be doing," he said.

"Then all of a sudden we were back playing football, but my fitness was very poor. I had a lot of catching up to do and that showed in my performances for St Colmcille's.

"That's not going to happen this year. I had a good chat with the 'Cilles manager and we have scrapped 2020 as being Covid related.

"I still think I have another three, four or five years at senior level. I'm only 31 and I don't consider myself to be over the hill yet, so I'm hoping to still play at senior level until I'm 35 or 36.

"When you look through Meath's Div 1 campaign, I know we were relegated, but my God we weren't beaten by much by any of the top teams.

"Even when I was playing I always felt we were better against the top teams, I know in the latter end of my career Dublin were pulling away from us, but when you look back at the games against Donegal and Tyrone in the qualifiers not so long ago we weren't too far away.

"When we play top teams we seem to perform a lot better, so I was never fearful when the lads were going into Div 1. I thought they would pick up a couple of results in Div 1 and be okay, but they were unlucky not too. There were plenty of positives to take from last year's league experience.

"Everyone will be looking at the Leinster final result and I feel sorry for the lads because they are not as bad as that result suggests, the Meath lads are good footballers.

"Dublin clicked on the night. The Dublin players knew this was a good Meath side they were coming up against and they upped their game enormously against us that night.

"The gap is not that big. This Meath team is coming, Andy is doing great work in there with the players, they are in great shape and are flying fit. They maybe need to improve on the football side of things which they know themselves.

"They need to be more clinical in their finishing and probably be more aggressive when they don't have the ball and then use the ball a bit better when they do have it.

"That will all come with experience of playing against the top teams, but the gap certainly isn't as wide as the Leinster final suggests and I think Meath will do well," concluded Reilly who will join Bernard Flynn’s management set up for the Meath under-20s for 2021 and maintain his link with the green and gold.

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