Throughout my life, it has been an honour and pleasure to have former Meath manager Sean Boylan as a neighbour and friend. While we are not related, that we share the same name only makes things more special. In all the years I’ve known Sean, only twice has the sight of him getting emotional been witnessed. Once was while delivering the graveside oration for my late mentor and most special friend, Tom Yourell. The other was at the recent function to mark the silver jubilee of Meath’s first All Ireland SFC during his stewardship.
Mind you, he wasn’t the only one to well up at the latter either. This corner has no problem admitting water was close to flowing too. Before going any further, sincere thanks must be extended to Sean and Shirley Nealon of Brady’s pub through whose kindness myself and my mother June were able to attend. Along with Sean Nealon Jnr., his wife Liz and Sean III, as well as Aidan, Natasia and Sarah Hayes and Declan and Ursula D’Arcy. Thanks also to Declan for looking after transport on the day!
To be honest, nobody – not even those who were being honoured – were sure of what to expect on the day. Great credit must go all those who put huge efforts into organising what was a tremendous occasion. Maybe two things in particular stood out on the day. A sense that it was hard to believe 25 years had passed since those great days. And just how well all the lads still look!
One of the great topics of curiosity during the day was the amount of people shaking the hand of yours truly. Maybe, though, that encapsulated best what the occasion was about and what that group of men and their achievements meant to people. Celebrating memories that shaped peoples lives
What was also great was to see many of their opponents, including many of the Cork players – their fiercest foes of the 1987/’88 period – joining them to celebrate. Also there to acknowledge this Meath team as one of the greatest of all time were players from Kerry, Down, Armagh, Offaly and Dublin
The joy, happiness and memories Sean and all of his teams and their successes brought me and what they meant to me on levels far greater than sporting ones is incalculable. Maybe the greatest thing they did, though, was to inspire the generations that came behind them. Up to and including the young men who represented Meath in the All Ireland MFC Final against Dublin two days after the function. Make no mistake, these lads and their mentors have had a great season. Furthermore, they provided yet more evidence that there’s plenty of reason for hope and optimism for Meath football going forward.
Some would question the success of their season when they didn’t win anything. There’s also been some rubbish talked in the aftermath of the All Ireland about the tactics used on the day. These are two separate issues and need to be dealt with as such. Firstly, while nobody likes losing finals, that this team contested three of them during their year cannot be overlooked. That must underline the quality of these players. Many of them seem certain to represent Meath at a higher level in years to come.
As for the tactics issue, manager Andy McEntee’s view that ‘The definition of stupidity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result’ carries credence. He was referring to the heavy defeat his side suffered against Dublin in the Leinster Final. With frank honesty, he continued ‘Setting up the same way, we felt we wouldn’t be able to cope with them. But we were still in it with ten minutes to go and that’s what we wanted’.
Negative or realistic, you decide. For me, very much the latter. Remember, their last Championship meeting ended in a 12 point reversal. This time, that gap was halved. Yes, it still ended in defeat, but the fact that they halved the deficit – not to mention gutsy victories gained over Tyrone and Mayo in the interim – emphasises the progress made during recent months.
The alteration of approach involved James McEntee being deployed as a seventh defender. Both teams in the senior final have been doing it all year – or longer – and look where it got them. Whilst nobody wants moral victories or takes any solace therein, the difference from the July meeting was obvious.
Indeed, with a bit more luck, they might have got even closer. Fiachra Ward was desperately unlucky not to score a goal in the opening minutes. Perhaps, however, where Meath were in hardest luck were in coming up against as good a minor team as there’s been in a very long time.
Players like Davy Byrne, Eric Lowndes, Shane Carthy, Conor McHugh and – in particular – Cormac Costello make Dessie Farrell’s side comparable with the great Laois U-18 team that had Colm Parkinson, Ian Fitzgerald, Kevin Fitzpatrick and Brian ‘Beano’ McDonald thereon. Or the Tyrone one containing Cormac McAnallen (RIP), Brian McGuigan and Stephen O’Neill.
Farrell’s team contested three finals this term and were faced by Meath in all three. The fact that the former win all three contests shouldn’t mask the fact that the two sides were, in some ways at least, fairly evenly matched. Sometimes, there’s a tendency to be overly negative in certain places.
Andy McEntee, Padraic Coyle, Kevin Foley, Breen O’Grady, PJ Cudden and their players had a successful season. With a bit of luck, they may have done even more. They have proven there’s plenty of talent in the county and plenty of hope for future success. That’s what needs to be focussed, and built, upon.