It’s been mentioned here previously, but, the aftermath of the 1995 Leinster SFC final was one of a few occasions tears were shed over a GAA result. Two other occasions felt more strange however. Namely, Meath going out of the championship at the first hurdle against Laois and a similar fate befalling them eight years thereafter against Offaly.
Simply because, to that point, my summers – and those of thousands like me – revolved around numerous trips to Croke Park as Sean Boylan and his players brought the people of Meath on an unforgettable, and, for some of us, life changing, journey. Only time has facilitated a realisation of the blessing those times were.
Also, only as Meath football has experienced more troughs than peaks in the more recent past has it become apparent that what their followers have lived in that time has been the staple diet of the majority of teams and their disciples since Our Lord was a young lad.
Now, the introduction of the Qualifier system in 2001 was presumably aimed at giving less prominent outfits a chance at attaining betterment. Has it? Yes, a team has come through the ‘back door’ and garnered Sam Maguire. But, those in question were on an upward curve in their fortunes at the relevant times and seemed nailed on to harvest autumnal gold either way.
Only last season were the powers of redemption really seen to best effect as the Tipperary footballers made a remarkable journey by the circuitous route at the end of which they might consider themselves a shade unlucky not to have gone even further. However, the chances of such adventures occurring henceforth have surely dissipated owing to the proposals recently endorsed at Congress.
At this point, it must be said that, in my view, Paraic Duffy was in a no-win situation. Identifying a problem is one thing, remedying it entirely another. The major chestnut in the GAA in recent times has been an unwieldy fixtures structure and its erosion of the club scene. Only right that the issue be highlighted and tackled as well.
Do I agree with Duffy’s brainchild? No, but surely the man deserves credit for at least attempting to instigate change. Chief disappointment here would be the reality that journeys like that embarked upon by the Premier County in 2016 has evaporated greatly as what’s actually likely to happen is that those perceived to be the top four will still end up in situ when it matters most. Just taking longer to get there.
Which in itself illuminates the major drawback in what the Monaghan man put together. Does it not stand to reason that more inter-county games – as the crassly titled ‘Super 8s’ will necessitate – fly in the face of the notion of being sympathetic to the plight of clubs? Notwithstanding the mooted earlier conclusion dates for county teams’ activities.
That topic sparks another thought. It’s quite difficult to see why there’s such a brouhaha over dates on the calendar. Talk of marketing or ceding ground to ‘competitor’ sports is just scaremongering. Rugby and soccer, presumably the two codes people are harking about, have always been there. It’s highly unlikely there’s suddenly going to be a mass exodus solely due to these stipulations.
There’s another point here. Indeed the most seminal one. Cries of outrage ensuing since Congress amount to bolting the stable door when the horse has long scarpered. Dermot Earley is somebody I’d have a lot of time for. Like his late father before him. Furthermore, it is of paramount importance that the view of players are heeded and acted upon. What grates is, if the groundswell of those the Kildare man represents were indeed so trenchant in their opinions, why was this not publicised properly much sooner? After all, the incoming dictum has been in the public domain for months.
Opposition to a proposed tiered competition was vehement. In one way, that’s understandable. But does it not also indicate that some, at least, are not being realistic with regard to their current states of prosperity. What’s the old thing about having your cake and eating it.
A lot of the above needs to be applied close to home. There’s a need to observe the bigger
picture before going to town on your own. When Andy McEntee was appointed Meath manager, my thoughts were titled thus: “Excited optimism tempered by realism”. In other words, while it was hoped, maybe expected, that the county’s fortunes would improve under the new regime, there were no illusions of a quick fix being available.
If anyone had such inclinations, they’ve rapidly been dispelled. That, though, doesn’t justify some of the reaction to some of the results, the Down game in particular. Look, social media and technology are great things. My life certainly wouldn’t be negotiable without them. That, though, cannot justify overtly harsh or even abusive critiques of anyone’s efforts.
Anyone who either plays on or takes on to manage a team is doing so because they are interested in and care about the entity in question. They certainly do not intend for things to go awry. One can’t help feeling that there are seriously unrealistic expectations at play with some at least.
We are not as good as we once were. Wishing that were different won’t make it so. Reverting to the stereotypical, panic-laden stance of rounding on the manager will solve nothing either. No, I am not just saying that because of who’s involved. Just think, Dublin stuck with Pat Gilroy after the ‘Startled Earwigs’ episode and look what happened after. Remember, the St Vincent’s clubman left solid foundations for Jim Gavin to proceed with.
Deficiencies between where Meath are and where it’s wished they were won’t be fixed easily. There’s probably no one cause, though performance in underage competitions has – with a few exceptions – been damning for nearly two decades. It will now go into a 17th season since a Leinster U-21 FC was won.
That is not, in any way, to denigrate the efforts of those who’ve played on or looked after those teams in the interim. It should be pointed out that there are tangible signs that much effort is being engaged in to improve things but the fruits of same will take time to mature.
Meath have quite the journey to undertake in order to get back to where we’d all like to see them, but the thinking must be that of a former American President – “Yes we can”!