Whenever a person passes to the great beyond, there’s a period of reflection. If one happens to close to the deceased, everything gets magnified. Personally, there’s been far too much of it over the last year or two. Those close to me will know the ones which have taken the biggest chunk out of the spirit here. Yet the battle endures.
The thing is, where the prototype would have always been to defer to sport – and principally GAA over the years – in search of a modicum of solace, it has been exactly thence emotions have been stirred in a highly unusual and upsetting manner of late.
Fate decreed that very shortly after Paddy Gallagher had been called to the card game above, Meath went into combat against his beloved Donegal. On the day of the game, pondering was engaged in, via Facebook, as to what my dear departed ‘Black Porter’ partner would have made of it all.
As it happened, our lads gave one of the most stirring displays seen from a Meath team in a long time – ending up, in my view, desperately unlucky not to get a free for a shot a taking the tie to extra time after Tipperary official Derek O’Mahony ignored a blatant hand-trip on the county’s latest flying doc, Donal Keogan.
Fast forward a year and it was impossible to escape a sense of déjà vu. Now, at this point, it must be admitted that the season hadn’t – to a large degree – gone as hoped. That, though ,wasn’t down to any one individual or circumstance. There’s been plenty of hot air floating around at different times during the season but the performance delivered against Tyrone was that of a united and talented team giving everything for themselves and those around them.
Outrage at the way the closing stages transpired was totally understandable. I’d understand the Cillian O’Sullivan penalty call not being given, though if it were awarded few could’ve complained either. Failure to award James McEntee a free in a later incident, however, was absolutely incomprehensible. If Stevie Wonder was refereeing or Ray Charles was linesman they would’ve seen that the Curraha player was clearly fouled.
It’s when you consider that when taking charge of big games referees are basically employees of the GAA while doing so (after all they’re the ones getting paid when the players should be entitled to similar remuneration at the very least), you wonder would poor performance by officialdom – and that’s something which has punctuated more than the MeathTyrone game – go without redress in any other arena.
One need only look at the goal given in the Waterford vs. Tipperary hurling game. Again, only one of numerous examples. Referees are human, I get that, but when things are as basic as forgetting to include the teabag and then wondering why all you’re left with is boiling water, it makes you think!
What’s most frustrating is that the solution is staring those in the control tower in the face. It prompts a series of questions: (a) Why is HawkEye not available in all county grounds? (b) As a knock-on effect of such not being the case, is it not applying double standards, for, surely, it stands to reason that games where the video technology is available stand a better chance of being free from pivotal decisions being got wrong. Which leads to query the third: Why, at stadia where the machinery is available, is it only deployed to adjudicate on scores and not other contentious issues which arise during games? It probably stems from the fear of change which inculcates much of GAA thinking.
Time has proven in the past that the Association does eventually come around to the realisation that change is, in fact, necessary. Mention of the often elongated process of change takes me to another point of poignancy. Dunshaughlin GAA recently bade farewell to their spiritual leader and one of the most innovative and progressive administrators this or any county was ever blessed to call their own, Patsy McLoughlin.
There was a time, when our neighbours were at their zenith nearly two decades ago, that it was said – and not always in jest – that I was turning into a Dunshaughlin man owing to what are treasured and lifelong friendships with many now former stars of that branch of black and amber.
What many mightn’t realise – but Patsy was never slow to remind me – was that I have plenty of Dunshaughlin in me. My grandfather, Patsy Geoghegan, was born in The Workhouse and the two of them grew up together. During my 11 years as PRO of our own club, he was always there to answer a query or offer a bit of friendly advice if it were needed.
On a much broader scale, Patsy McLoughlin’s contribution to GAA administration – which spanned nearly five decades – was pioneering in nature given that he was one of the driving forces behind the removal of ‘The Ban’ on ‘Foreign’ sports in GAA grounds. How fitting it was, then, that a Meath man, Shane Horgan scored the most memorable try seen in Croke Park. Another Meath man might also have the runner up in that category, but that’s for another day!
Personally, I will mourn the loss of a dear friend. What will be missed most, though, is the mischievous banter. “You’re one of our own” was the standard greeting whenever our paths crossed. It was an honour, pleasure and no little education to number in your rank Patsy, may your gentle soul rest in peace.
It was in the immediate aftermath of that devastating defeat to Tyrone that it was learned Patsy was near journey’s end. I’ve no doubt he would’ve sought the positives out of the mire of disappointment. And there were some. The emergence of Ben Brennan and the return to form of James McEntee foremost among them.
More emboldening than even that, though, was the heart and spirit shown, albeit in defeat. Meath started the game as 3/1 outsiders and while one was obviously disappointing to lose the few euro as well as the game, there was something very uplifting about seeing a team willing and able to die with their boots on.
Looking at the bigger picture, the emergence of green shoots should stave off kneejerk reactionism. There’s been a sense at times that not everybody is pulling in the same direction. Not only is that disappointing, it’s self-defeating. Anybody who takes on to look after any team, club or county, gives of their best in the role and has only the betterment of their charges at heart. Thus, some of the reaction to one result in particular – especially from quarters that should know better – was disappointing in the extreme. Existing gaps will only be bridged if operations receive the backing they need a deserve.
I was the beneficiary of a very kind gesture by Meath U-20 manager Brian Farrell earlier in the year and though things didn’t turn as planned (that can be applied in several senses) thereafter, a special affinity was felt with that group of players and their mentors.
Obviously, the end result against Dublin was bitterly disappointing. However, players such as Ethan Devine and James Conlon and Jordan Morris and Jason Scully – to name a few – showed enough to suggest they could well be capable of contributing at a higher level going forward.
Perhaps the greatest boon, mind you, was seeing a Meath underage team stringing two or three consecutive victories together. Even if the journey didn’t end as anybody would have wished, that they were able to put a string of results together suggests that there are a bunch players coming through who’ve acquired a winning habit which is as difficult to attain as losing one is to kick.
Mind you, doing even better in that regard have been the county Minor footballers. Which is poignantly fitting in another way, as, to the forefront of their magnificent achievements thus far have been folk associated with the Dunshaughlin club. Namely, captain Mathew Costello, his fellow forward Luke Mitchell and team mentors Paul Nestor and Paul Murphy. There’s certainly one man beaming smiling in the dugout above.
The entire county should be, mind you. Now, yes, being a sentimentalist I may be placing a little bit too much store in the following, but, given the dominance exerted by Dublin over seemingly every grade for what feels like forever – no fault of theirs by the way – that a Meath underage team has been them in consecutive seasons (the U20s defeated the boys in blue earlier in the season as well) gives an indication that, to some degree at least, the tide might just be beginning to turn.
Moreover, whilst the records will, correctly, document it as the county’s first Leinster MFC title in a decade, surely it’s as noteworthy as it is significant that it was also actually their second consecutive annexation of what is now the U-17 competition. Dunboyne’s Liam Byrne having captained the side which captured it in what was its pilot staging last season.
I’ve written here previously how hard Dunboyne’s defeat to Simonstown last season hit yours truly for reasons that went far deeper than football. Similar feelings have abounded since that dispiriting evening in Pairc Tailteann nearly a month ago.
At the time of typing, the Royal U-16’s have made an encouraging beginning to the Gerry Reilly Cup, with Skryne’s Niall Finnerty catching the eye as the latest member of that talented dynasty. The turn in the road may not be that far away at all.