With about twelve minutes to go in what was the middle instalment of a trilogy of games between #Meath and Westmeath in the 2001 football championship, a group of supporters from another county proclaimed (stupidly within earshot of yours truly!) “It’s great to be here to see the end of (Sean) Boylan”. No way was that going to be let go without a retort! They were gently reminded that there was still time left…
Thereafter, on a day when Ger Heavin and Dessie Dolan and Joe Fallon held the Meath rearguard in a dither for most of the duration, the latter – through Ollie Murphy in particular – conjured the sort of finish which – perhaps in something of a blasé manner – was expected at the time.
Recalling the 25th anniversary of the beginning of the four game saga between Meath and Dublin caused one to lament. How long ago it all seems. It’s a decade and a half since that epic day against the Lake County. More than that, it causes rueful reminiscence regarding the unforgettable fare produced by those two gallant, great teams, when compared to what passes for ‘good’ football now. What it also did was enforce a realisation of how scarce good days in Croke Park have been for Meath in recent times.
Yet, for one recent afternoon, it was akin to taking a time portal back to how it used to be. Now, it somewhat pains me to continually have to put this record straight – maybe it’s not necessary but for my own mind it is. You see, in certain places there is, or at least was, a perception of an anti hurling stance here.
Balderdash. With eternal thanks to the Lynch family of the Lynn Group, the people behind the Meath GAA Yearbook, invaluable journalistic experience was gleaned and some great days were had following and reporting on Meath underage hurling teams in the early 2000s. The only reason that ceased was – as time wore on – the one seeing eye may as well have been seeking white blackbirds as sliotars.
What has never been in doubt has been the potential within Meath to progress their standing in the game. It’s surely not insignificant that, since annexing the Nicky Rackard Cup in 2009, they have readily held their own in the Christy Ring Cup in the interim. The one thing they’ve lacked in terms of advancement in the latter and/or promotion in the league has been a little luck.
Before any smart comments about what transpired in the aftermath of the Meath-Antrim match, their recovery against the Ulster side had more to do with skill, courage and self belief than anything else. Furthermore, to focus on matters which essentially had nothing to do with the victors or the vanquished, rather, mistakes made by officialdom, neglects the fact that the performances delivered by Martin Ennis’s charges have been on an upward curve all year.
Still, the way it all transpired seemed surreal. Antrim, the 1/6 favourites, seemed set to slip away like Annie Power in the Champion Hurdle. Yet, with all the skill and heart of Ryan Moore and Minding in the Epsom Oaks, Meath extricated themselves from hurtling toward oblivion with a finish the likes of which we gorged on in Croker for years.
From a personal perspective, it couldn’t have been scripted better. Dunboyne’s own Sean Quigley coming on a grabbing a pair of scores that’ll do well to be bettered in there this year. Scarcely quantifiable stuff. But then, maybe it’s best not to over analyse. Don’t try to figure it out, just enjoy it. Think Connacht, think a Westmeath team beating Kilkenny, think Leicester City. This was up there, right up there.
For me – and many I suspect – it was a day tinged with poignancy too. It was a source of immense pride to see Sean and Michael O’Grady involved on what was a momentous day for Meath hurling but it couldn’t help thinking of the late, great Brian Smyth around that time too. He who was Mr Meath hurling for so long. This was undoubtedly for Brian, and for the countless others who have given their souls to the betterment and promotion of Meath hurling for so long.
Sadly, in a sickening sense of déjà vu, it appears that – at the very least – a cloud will again hang over a Meath success in Croke Park. It is a grossly unfair scenario – to both sides. Wholly unacceptable and one which is purely down to ineptitude at the highest level. Incompetence which underlines, really, what’s thought of the counties outside of the perceived elite.
What cannot be changed is that what transpired amounted to one of the most remarkable days for Meath in GAA HQ for far too long. It also assuredly sits as one of the greatest ever displays by a Meath hurling team. Unfortunately, what it will be worth remains to be seen.