What’s more than two decades ago, two great occasions in the story of #Meath hurling occurred. As far as can be recalled, it was under the stewardship of John Davis – who latterly brought camogie glory to the county – that National League victories were annexed over then All Ireland champions #Offaly and #Wexford.
The oft quoted maxim about improvement coming from taking on a better calibre of opponent certainly carried credence at that time as, in the 1996 Leinster SHC, the same group of players put up one of the greatest ever displays by a Royal County bunch of stickmen against Offaly at Croke Park. So good, was it, in fact, that Kilmessan’s Anton O’Neill was voted Man of the Match after blotting out no less than Joe Dooley.
Since then, there have been many peaks and troughs. However, it must be acknowledged that from the time the Neil Hackett captained outfit raised the Nicky Rackard Cup, Meath have more than held their own in the Christy Ring competition and actually have been somewhat unlucky not to gather silverware in either the latter named or the league.
Significantly, though, the county’s underage hurling teams have in recent years acquitted themselves quite well in their competitions. Obviously, defeat is never the ideal outcome, but, surely the fact that All Ireland finals are being contested – no mean feat at any level – must auger well going forward.
To that end, it’s been both merited and encouraging to Martin Ennis’s charges recently competing in the Walsh Cup rather than the Keogh Cup which, with due respect, is a lower level. Meath have won the last named pre season trophy fairly regularly in recent seasons, and cynics will no doubt illuminate the reality that two defeats have resulted from their opening two jousts in the stronger division.
However, evidently, against both Carlow and Wexford, good displays were delivered in defeat. Now, while one half of the mind deplores the idea of moral victories, the merits of anything depend on perspective. It was obviously felt that some benefit could be accrued from stepping up and, from a certain viewpoint, that stance has been vindicated as, while they may not have won, competing well with teams who – in fairness – would’ve been considered a level above will surely stand them in good stead for the future.
Similar sentiments could justifiably be apportioned to the outings had by Mick O’Dowd’s team in the O’Byrne Cup. Of course, one could easily balk at the daunting reality of a third string Dublin outfit sauntering along thus far. Perhaps, however, too much attention is focussed on how the other half live.
While it would of course be wonderful to be at the same level, realistically that’s not how it is. That said, ambition is an eternal must. Meath can and should have their own ambitions. League promotion and to be still playing championship football in August should be viewed as attainable targets.
Look at any of the top teams – in any sport – and one of the greatest common denominators is a regular throughput of players. Not necessarily a turnover of personnel, more so as constant a stream of new talent coming through as is possible. And the subsidiary competitions are exactly the platforms upon which to give lads their chance to earn their ticket to harvest – or at least silage – season.
That doesn’t have to be confined to players who never featured previously. It can also encompass lads who were on the fringes, awaiting their chance to perform. So it’s been good and worthwhile to see men such as Sean Tobin and Donal Lenihan and Nicky Judge and Dalton McDonagh get some game time alongside newcomers in Barry Tormay, Alan Douglas, Cathal Finn, James O’Reilly, Darragh Smyth, Mark Battersby (belatedly in my view), Padraig Geraghty and Shane McEntee.
Harry Rooney appears to be establishing himself in the team and is a commanding and growing presence. It goes without saying that greatest joy and satisfaction has been derived from seeing the three Dunboyne lads doing well in the early part of the season. Rivalling it, though, has to be the return of Cillian O’Sullivan to the county colours.
The Moynalvey clubman was one of the standout performers on the Andy McEntee managed Minor ensemble that contested the All Ireland MFC final in 2012 and were therein unlucky ti run into as good a Dublin side as there had been for decades in the grade up to that point. However, since then, the speedy half forward has been beset by a serious back injury and I’d venture to suggest I was far from alone in wondering whether the talented youngster would ever grace a field again.
His return is a huge boost. For his club, for the county, but most of all, for the lad himself. All told, regardless of how it culminates, it’s been a good O’Byrne Cup for Meath. Every game played should leave them nearer to being right for bigger days. At this time of year the possibilities are endless.