A while ago on these pages, it was hoped that things were turning for the better. The hay had been saved and a start had been made at the harvest. In the interim, the weather has been pretty awful so there’s still a lot more grain to be cut than has been knocked. Strange as it may seem, this realisation hit home on the way into Croke Park to see the Meath Minors take on Mayo in the All Ireland semi final.
That was a special day for variety of reasons. Firstly, it marked 22 consecutive years going into GAA HQ for your columnist. Good and all as that might sound, it pales into insignificance when put against the record of my father who this year made it 72 years in a row attending games in the nation’s greatest stadium.
Some history was made in this seat on the day though. Simply because it was the first time these wheels marked on the train to head to a match. And what a trip it turned out to be. Apart from the fact that we were packed like sardines owing to a surprising – to put it mildly – failure to have extra carriages on. It’s not the first time it’s happened and was made even worse as there was extra throng with the Tall Ships event also on.
It was still a great trip though. Especially as it was shared with the McEntee, Lavin and Daly families who were out in force to support manager Andy and Shane, Seamus and Jason respectively. Also joining myself and dad, my brother Des and Paddy Gallagher were such sporting luminaries as outgoing Meath selector Tom Keague, Declan Mahon, Liam Harnan, Martin ‘Mockey’ Regan, Sean Whyte and Martin Donnelly.
When the destination was reached, what transpired wasn’t half bad either! After being unlucky not to get a goal inside the first minute courtesy of James McEntee, the excellent Cillian O’Sullivan was also desperately unlucky not to find the net, rattling the crossbar after outstanding approach play by Shane McEntee.
Meath teams taking time to settle is nothing new. And, as has often happened, once Fiachra Ward got them off the mark, a flurry of scores followed. Jason Daly – who was doing much to drag the Royals back into the equation – pointed twice and James McEntee and Pauric Harnan also registered to leave the deficit at a much more manageable five at the break.
They made another very slow start to the second half though. As in the opening period, they fell seven points in a row. Although the points keep coming, the sense was that a ‘major’ was going to be required to turn the tie in Meath’s favour. Gut feeling was however – and the first half emphasised the hunch – that they were well capable of getting them.
Now, of course it will be said that a few decisions went Meath’s way. That they did, but Meath didn’t make them and as was said at the time of the Leinster Final episode in 2010, any team can only adhere to the rules as they are applied by the referee. Besides that, the tenacity and spirit his team showed to haul themselves back into the game after being seven adrift twice – not to mention the fact that Mayo failed to score for 27 minutes in the second half – surely rendered Andy’s army deserving winners!
So now, they meet Dublin again. The latter – complete with Eric Lowndes who has a large quantity of Meath blood in him – are as good an U-18 team as this writer has seen in many years. After their comprehensive Leinster win, they will deservedly enter the showpiece as raging hot favourites.
That’s no bad thing though. Meath teams are traditionally at their best when written off. More importantly than that, though, they have improved markedly since that initial joust. Going into Ulster to topple the likes of Tyrone is never an easy ask. As with their latest outing however, our lads showed admirable guts to pull it off. That said, it must be acknowledged they will have produce their best yet to capture the Tom Markham Cup. There’s no reason why that can’t happen though. Where there’s life there’s hope!
No matter what happens though, the progress made by these lads has to be a huge positive. More talent is continuing to emerge. If there were doubts about where Meath GAA was going – in one sense at least – it’s time to start changing the train of thought! Semi final day proved that in more ways than one!
The train station in Dunboyne is surrounded by fields of grain and while that was the reason the effect weather was having on farming came to mind on the way in, what transpired in Croker proved that things can always turn for the better. By the time home was reached, the sun was out, big things might be about to happen on many fronts!
Some big decisions await to be made in the near future. One that has been already is that the train will be the transport of choice for Croke Park where possible in future. More important, though, will be what emerges for Meath’s future from the process to fill the management job. Developments are awaited with interest.