Progress on and off the field

In an era when earmarking GAA competitions for culling has become something of a national pastime, one was recently reminded of two low-key tournaments, the likes of which would be earmarked with bells on for an encounter with the Sword Of Damocles. Now read on…

Whilst en route from Kilkenny recently, a wonderful interview with Colm O’Rourke was encountered on the radio. Though it wasn’t actually mentioned, when recalling the supreme player he was and the stellar career he eventually enjoyed, thoughts were drawn to the serious knee injury sustained by the Skryne forward in a tournament backed by Navan Carpets.

Now, whether the segment on Newstalk was done to coincide with Meath’s appearance in the O’Byrne Cup final cannot be categorically stated, but, having had poignant reason to be in Sean Boylan’s company that same week, the thought struck that the first silverware attained under my neighbour’s stewardship was actually in a tournament win over Longford.

Everything has to begin somewhere. Thus it was both rewarding and encouraging to note the first annexation of a trophy in Mick O’Dowd’s tenure against the same opposition. You can be sure O’Dowd’s opposite number Denis Connerton and his players strove equally as valiantly to capture the cup. Any competition is hard won, and there’s no greater generator of momentum than winning.

As was said previously, apart from the obvious tangible reward gained, the best thing about Meath’s early season form has been seeing players – some who had already been part of the setup and some who hadn’t – get their chance to prove their worth. From a personal perspective, obviously greatest pride emanated from the three Dunboyne lads, Cathal Finn, Donal Lenihan and Shane McEntee collect medals at inter county level. Any such occurrence is a special day.

Again, however, special mention must be afforded to Cillian O’Sullivan. I recall being in situ when he made his National League debut against Galway in early in 2013 and he was undoubtedly the standout performer. Little did anyone think that when he was absent from the starting 15 against Monaghan the following week that it would be so long before he would again illuminate a football field with his prodigious talent.

That he has made it back is a tribute to the lad’s strength of character and powers of endurance and recovery. With that in mind, how fitting it was that he notched the goal which safeguarded Meath’s first conquest of a competition in football since a very trying occasion a neighbouring county a few years back!

Before this year’s subsidiary competitions commenced, it was noted that it was the first season in many years in which no experimental rules were deployed therein. However, perhaps disappointingly under the radar, around the same time it was announced that the forthcoming provincial Minor pre-season matches would see some adjustments trialled.

Disappointment stems from these alterations (a) not being tried in the adult warm up games and (b) that their affixation to the underage games has received little or no publicity. Ponderings again return to the O’Rourke interview. Amidst the tale of his ultimately unrewarded battle to partake in the 1991 All Ireland final and a bit of banter pertaining to the rumbustious style of play employed by the team upon which the great left boot was such a focal point, the point was also raised regarding the style of play favoured by Sean Boylan.

Long, angled kick passes were the order of the day. Modernists would undoubtedly scoff at such simplicity. But, for Meath at least, they were tactics the yielded rich harvests. Even for us sporting romantics it may be too much to hope for a renewed proliferation of such football. However, the measures getting a run out represent the removal of some long roasting chestnuts off the barbecue!

Namely, the ‘Mark’ getting another go and stipulations limiting consecutive hand passes to three and forbidding backward passing altogether. Admittedly, these changes will not right all the wrongs which currently impinge upon the quality of Gaelic football, but, with Meath again garnering a trophy and – at the very least – positive moves regarding the structures of the game made, it all represented progress on and off the field over the course of the same weekend.

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