Debate and rancour surrounding GAA fixtures has a lifespan as flexible as time itself. No matter what new systems are trialled – and no matter how convoluted they seem to be – the business end of club competitions in most counties seems to boil down to this time of year. Which leads to the type of emotional rollercoaster only our games can derive.
If your club happens to be involved in the tail end of a county championship, in any code or grade, there is no feeling like it in the world. Conversely, though, if you are on the outside looking in, it can seem like the loneliest place on the planet. Not as isolated, however, I think, as losing a county final.
It’s a source of great pride to yours truly that, presently, in terms of the Meath Senior Football Championship, St Peter’s, Dunboyne currently have similar status to what the Down footballers had prior to 2010 having never lost a final. Unfortunately, however, our history in hurling has thrown up nothing but trials, tribulations and heartache for generations.
At the time of typing we are entering our 114th year without lifting the Jubilee Cup – having this year agonisingly fallen to Kildalkey by a point at the penultimate hurdle. Yet, for very fitting reasons, county hurling final day this year was a very special occasion for our club. Now read on…
One of the other factors regarding matches in the concluding furlongs of the year is the probability of venue changes due to the inclemency of the weather. Now, in 1997, Dunboyne happened to have very strong U-21 teams in both hurling and football. And, as tends to be the case with these competitions – in Meath at least – they are consigned to the dying embers of the season.
Anyway, one winters weekend in ’97, our U-21 football semi final against Trim was switched from Summerhill to Bective. The latter is one of the most picturesque venues in the county, and also one of the most rurally outlying. On the day, the point was made that quite the adventure was had trying to locate the home of the great Mick Morris.
At which point John Reilly reminded me mischievously that we had won an underage hurling title there earlier that year. It’s important to state that the gentle reminders were in jest because, while John has always understood deficiencies in my eyesight are what curtail my viewing of hurling and/or camogie, others have been known to go off on a different tangent!
That day came back to mind recently. You see hurling county final day was, as hinted at earlier, a proud day for the club and the parish even though we were nowhere near the playing field. For it was the occasion of the honouring of John as Guest of Honour prior to throw in.
Seldom has recognition been more fittingly bestowed. Going back to 1997, as far as can be recalled, the farrier was involved in the management of literally every hurling team in the club at the time. It was shortly thereafter that he, along with Sean McManus and others, formed the hurling committee which put the game on the prosperous, sound footing where it has remained since.
Paul Reilly, himself a great servant of the small ball code in the county, observed that John hardly needed introductions to the Kiltale and Kildalkey players during the ceremonial handshake. It was a seminal point, such has been his contribution to the game at county level for so many years. Indeed, the improvement in fortunes enjoyed by Meath hurling teams in recent years owes much to the efforts of John and numerous others like him over a long number of years.
The very fitting tribute was only the beginning of the mother and father of good weekends for our club! Yes, the description was employed deliberately. For the day after the hurling final, Meath camogie enjoyed its finest hour as they attained the senior status their remarkable progress in recent years has merited.
From a Dunboyne perspective it was very much a family affair. A case of interwoven stories, too. Consider that John’s daughter, Gillian, has been as heavily involved with county camogie in recent years as has been her dad with hurling for decades while Gillian’s daughter, Laura, has also represented the county.
It goes even deeper than that. Dunboyne’s Teresa Clince was one of John Davis’s selectors while on the panel from the club were her daughter Maeve, along with Ellen Burke and Sinead Hackett. In the case of the latter it was a case of bringing more success to family as well as to the club as brother Neil was an integral part of the formative stages of the progress Meath hurling has been enveloped in.
Of course, the overlap between the hurling and camogie fortunes of the area becomes more intrinsic when it’s remembered that John Davis – who did so much for the betterment of Meath hurling at a time when the game was in a dark place – is now guiding the fortunes of the girls.
What they have achieved under his stewardship is nothing short of staggering. Not just in terms of graduating through two grades of Junior to claim their place among the game’s elite. Also in the manner in which they have increased the profile of the game in the county. Akin, it has to be said, to the county’s lady footballers as well.
As always seems to be the case with any Meath success, there was quite the kerfuffle this time too. And it was a case of history striking twice. The sight of Bernard Flynn having a ‘point’ disallowed against Wicklow in 1991 whilst the ball was in mid-air came flooding back as Megan Thynne’s late effort against Cork at Croke Park was outlawed.
There’s nothing new, either, about Royal County teams being on the wrong end of dubious refereeing decisions. During the first half, how exactly the Westmeath official failed to award the underdogs a penalty should be enlisted as the eighth glorious mystery.
But then, overcoming adversity is ingrained into the Meath GAA DNA. More pointedly, it’s woven into the fabric of the camogie disciples. Remember, it’s not all that long ago since a bunch representing the county in said discipline were on the end of a 40-plus point drubbing by Dublin.
More than that, they have always had poignant motivation at their backs too. When they last gathered glory in Croker five years ago. There were some special people steering the ship from the stadium afar. This time, thoughts will no doubt have been of Teresa Davis – wife of John – who passed away earlier this year.
What they have achieved, and continue to, is astounding. Hopefully all of Meath GAA can take inspiration from them.