By Brendan Boylan, This column comes to you amidst a maelstrom of emotions. First off, let it be made abundantly clear that this writer has no problem with the current Meath management team. While Seamus McEnaney was only properly introduced to me very recently, I have known Tom Keague all my life and was blessed to befriend Graham Geraghty and his wife Amanda what is a good few years ago now.
That said, Sean Boylan also holds an immeasurably special place in my life and that of my family as well. No, we are NOT related, but Sean is my namesake, neighbour, friend and many other things besides. Sean being in charge of the Meath team was part of my life for more time than it hasn’t been and what the glory he brought to the county meant to me on far more important levels than sporting ones is incalculable. So, when he left, things were always going to feel a little different from a personal perspective.
It’s beyond doubt, though, that Eamonn Barry, Colm Coyle and Eamonn O’Brien put huge efforts in with the county team and all strove for success. When you consider that Meath have won a Leinster SFC, contested two All Ireland semi finals and annexed two Leinster MFC titles all in the last six years, you’d think all was well. Closer inspection would suggest however that things in the Royal garden are more thistle like than rosy.
The two Minor wins, in 2006 and 2008, should have been significant factors in keeping Meath strong going forward. Yet, it is here the fall down in structure commented upon so extensively in my last GAA column bites hardest. Fewer than two handfuls of players have graduated from both teams to the senior ranks.
Thus, McEnaney has – with the exception of a few like Ciaran Lenihan, Bryan Menton, Donncha Tobin and Paddy Gilsenan – been working with the same players as O’Brien. Some of whom were even there in Boylan’s time. Now, there’s nothing wrong with longevity, but the problem arises when age and sporting mileage begin to clock up and the replacement troops are thin on the ground.
You may be bored hearing these examples but they are pertinent. In contrast to Meath’s one All Ireland U-21 title and lack of a provincial one since 2001, players in Kilkenny and Tipperary in hurling and Tyrone, Cork and even Mayo in football generally have tasted a bit of success before they hit the top level and with all teams mentioned success has – to varying degrees – followed at the top table.
So many Meath players nowadays are not used to winning titles. And, like tasting victory, losing is a habit that can be hard to snap. More importantly however, even though there are those who would scoff at the U-21 grade, it provides essential linkage from underage to senior. It has to be more than coincidence that since the conveyor belt of talent coming through has at the very least slowed down our senior fortunes have floundered.
Too much was made of the fact that ‘Banty’ is not a Meath man. Mick O’Dwyer was from neither Laois or Wicklow, yet he brought silverware to both. Nor was Paidi O’Se from Westmeath or John O’Mahony a native of either Leitrim or Galway and the results were the same. Look, if one wanted to be real knit picky, Sean was far better known as a hurling man before he took the football job and that appointment didn’t work out too bad!
For all that though, the Monaghan man’s tenure has been bitterly disappointing in many ways. Worse than that, some of what has gone on has been disheartening and disillusioning. Foremost of which has been an attempt to fundamentally change the way Meath play football. It didn’t work for Joe Kernan in Galway and it very obviously hasn’t worked here either. Having said all that, removing Seamus would’ve solved nothing and the attempt to do so was ludicrous and led to a farcical, upsetting situation.
You will be reading this in the days surrounding my 31st birthday. My earliest memory of Meath football is the ‘crazy’ goal scored by Kerry’s Ger Power in 1986. In all the time since, I cannot things being at a lower ebb. Absolutely no pleasure is taken from saying that. Doubtless, Seamus McEnaney and his assistants wanted the best and have given of their best for the cause.
While I felt changing the setup mid season wasn’t right, it would be openly admitted that, on another, personal level, the thought of Sean returning did excite me. In the whirlwind of emotions though, sadness is the strongest feeling. At the state things in Meath now are in and the inescapable feeling that there was an attempt at least to take advantage of Sean’s ever generous nature. The situation was badly handled in the extreme and with it having turned out the way it did one wonders how long things in certain places can stay as they are.
However, what is important now is, in so far as is possible, to move on from this mess. There are 30 plus men who devote large parts of their lives to playing for Meath. They will soon represent us in the Leinster Championship. Seamus, Tom and Graham will no doubt be working tirelessly to ensure that goes well. Meath are being ridiculed in many places. That hurts. We, their people, must get behind them. We must never stop believing.