“The hay is saved and Cork are bet, the crowds do wildly roar…You speak too soon, my sweet gasun, for here comes Christy Ring, yes, Ring of the eight All Ireland medals”. The preceding parable was delivered by Micheal O’Muircheartaigh as his introduction to The Banks Of My Own Lovely Lee on the GAA album – released in 1996 – which was basically a song for every county in Ireland.
If the great man from Dun Sion was narrating such a compilation this year, he’d have to change that preamble. To the cause of much upset, close to home, there’s been no hay saved. Cork haven’t been beaten either and, as much as sentiment would like to see a Waterford success, I don’t see Kieran Kingston’s side being defeated. Which accentuates regret at not having a punt earlier in the year!
It’s been that kind of year. Not as much action as it’s wished – by any means – is taken in ‘in person’ nowadays, but, two of the most enjoyable outings that were taken in thus far this year were Meath’s two qualifier jousts in Pairc Tailteann against Sligo and Donegal. What can be confirmed, also, is that, no matter how long one may be away from the coalface, it only takes a second to again become immersed in the emotion of these things. The elation of victory, the heartbreaking finality of defeat.
To go forward, though, in this case, the story must first go back. To a Wednesday evening in early May at the same venue. The first round of the Meath Senior Football Championship. Looking back on it now, the game – never mind the result – seems insignificant. Which is saying something, given that it was a local derby and Dunboyne won.
No, my abiding memory of that night was a feeling of overwhelming sadness. For deep down it was obvious that it was the last time I would share the company of my dear friend, Paddy Gallagher. In fact, friend doesn’t go far enough. It’s probable that there aren’t the words to describe the sense of heartache caused by his passing. Or, for that matter, to sum up what was a truly special bond we shared.
Denis, Liz and David have been central to some of the best days of my life – on and off the pitch – so it was movingly fitting to be together again that last time at a football pitch. However, what that realisation also did was to make trips to Navan thereafter park an emotional mess in the mind.
But, and the following statement is not uttered in a blasé sense, getting on with the game was the only option. As himself would’ve ‘persuaded’ me in his own ‘unique’ way. For all that, going back to HQ for the first time after Paddy’s death is something which will stay with me forever.
Obviously, it’s important to win every game one has an interest in, but there was something extra special about getting over the line that night. However, hindsight has proven that, in truth, Meath stumbled over the line against Niall Carew’s team. Sometimes, mind you, cold analysis is conducted through too narrow a lens.
In the maelstrom that is social media, in the aftermath of the defeat by Donegal (another intensely emotional night grieving for my old friend from Ardara and wondering what he’d have made of it all), discourse fluctuated between – in the more upbeat corner – that Andy McEntee’s side were desperately unlucky on the night but had assuredly made progress during his first season in charge and – in the naysayers section – a contention that Meath were out of the championship and had failed to gain promotion in the league deemed tangible progress difficult to discern.
Even allowing for local patriotism, my feelings would undoubtedly reside in the former camp. Simply as, gut feeling is, in the not too distant past, Meath would not have got as close to the men from the northwest or – for what it’s worth – achieved some of the results attained earlier in their season.
Being even relatively close to things can have its drawbacks too though. All too easily is it recalled whilst writing a bit on the occasion of Sean Boylan’s retirement opining how difficult it was writing when things weren’t going our way during his tenure. It was never easy being critical and was most certainly never personal. Many will know how crucial it is to me – on levels far more important that sporting ones – to see Dunboyne and Meath teams do well.
Identical tenets apply now. Which takes me back to the whirlwind of social media. Whilst watching the Leinster final, the point was made that – taking into account the gap there was between the sides when they met in Tullamore – Meath, for all the progress they’ve undoubtedly made, still had ground to make up to get to where Kildare are at.
That was not, in any shape or form, or never would be, a slight on those working to restore Meath football to where it should be. It would be earnestly hoped that those who ought to know must surely be aware how much he who is in charge – and those around him – means to me. And, to underline, again, how special on-field progress is por moi.
Therefore, necessity is for yours truly to hang onto whatever positives there are. So, as was opined amidst the raw emotion in the aftermath of the Donegal game, the turn in the road isn’t that far away. Indeed, recently, it was a case of hoping one Super Saturday can act as a signpost to exactly that.
A fundamental part of the Dublin success juggernaut has been the refusal to take anything for granted – no fixture, no competition, no part of the structure around them. With that in mind, it would be hoped that the significance of what went down on that late July Saturday would be fully appreciated by our own.
To capture a provincial title – at any grade – and qualify for an All Ireland final in another would represent a good season’s work at any time. For it to happen on the same day is quite something. Not to mention unfair asking a county to field in two important fixtures at different venues on the same day.
The latter point would be annoying enough at any time, but, when it’s considered that Dunboyne’s Ger Robinson was a mentor with both Meath teams concerned and it amounts to pure lunacy. Even if it does add another unique layer to and swell the pride felt at the Dunboyne contribution to what was a great day for our county.
Some might say it was ‘only’ Junior or ‘only’ U-17 but, apart from the fact that such a stance insults the competitions and those striving to win them, it misses the point made above about Dublin. Consider that they field a supposed third string – selected by Jim Gavin before the ‘main’ panel went on holiday – and duly took the O’Byrne Cup. Moreover, from that group Niall Scully emerged and has gone on to be one of the finds of the year.
Now, given that the two primary underage competitions have been utterly changed going forward, it would be foolhardy to make light of Meath’s recent successes. Fundamentally, first of all, as it’s catapulted the county back into a winning habit. A trend being continued by what seems to be a very talented U-16 bunch.
More importantly, though, it gets a conveyor belt of talent moving again. All of which must bode well going forward. As was said here previously, the approach taken with the Meath Junior team this year is commendable. Some of those involved have already seen service with the county seniors, more will surely follow.
Furthermore, the success of the U-17 team in particular could be huge. For, strange as the re-alignments of the underage competitions are, prosperity therein bolsters the chances of betterment at the highest level. For now though, Super Saturday has lifted the spirits immeasurably.
And that they required bolstering scarcely needs any greater manifestation than a realisation that nothing has appeared in this space for a considerable period as the tank was running on empty for reasons that had nothing to do with sport. That said, nobody would want yours truly to get the show back on the road more than the kind, gentle giant gone to the hills yonder.