I should know by now to wait. To let my emotions cool down after a match before commenting. The last time I fell into the old trap was the night Tyrone stole victory from the jaws of defeat. Or rather were gifted it by a referee so far out of his depth it was like watching someone try to swim across the Atlantic with only a pair of armbands for protection. A fact graphically illustrated weeks later when he put on an even bigger horror show.
Look, am I shocked? No. There will be those who will deploy the ‘out of their depth’ line here too. Maybe. They wouldn’t be the first and sure as hell won’t be the last. The condescending sneers from Darragh Maloney and Kevin McStay were what drove me over the edge. They should ask Marty Morrissey what it’s like to be on the wrong side of such a drubbing. Ever heard of the Milltown-Malbay Massacre? Look it up.
My poor unfortunate lady, who has done so much to rescue my life from a dangerous and debilitating abyss needlessly bore the brunt of my being heart and soul emotionally invested in it. Herself tells me we were as bad as each other, but, by my own admission, it certainly wouldn’t be a situation with which there would be any satisfaction with the manner in which it was dealt with.
That is the regret and no little shame which is my burden now. For the first time in my life, I regret being so immersed in it. But then, how could that be? G.A,A. has always meant so much more to me than the material result of what happens between the lines.
This year more than any other, in one way. Yet, from another angle, the winter wonderland has brought its own heartache.The sight of every county ground in the country – among them some of the best stadia in Europe – empty, save for wildlife, when it would been entirely feasible to facilitate attendances at matches.
Anyway, as is often the case with me, greatest upset last night was for the players and management. Yes, before anybody says it, those feelings always have been and always would be the same regardless of who was patrolling the sideline or how many of our own were involved. Nobody goes out for things to go wrong, to under perform, or, worse still, to fail to do themselves justice. Nobody will be hurting more at this time than the players and management.
Do I think some things could have been differently? Yes. Now, this applies to a lot more teams than Meath, but, why defenders can never seem to be out in front of their men now is mind boggling. Allowing any forward – not to mention some of the best to ever play the game – get the ball and then worrying about how to deal with them – is the worst case of closing the stable door when the horse has long bolted there could be.
Conceding the kickouts is enough of an abomination, but, where is the sense in coming up with these defensive ‘systems’, which basically amounts to parking the bus. Thus inviting the opposition to attack in waves repeatedly. And there has hardly ever been a better team anywhere to accept such an invitation and lavish in it gleefully. Tipperary amply gave a demonstration that what be considered ‘old fashioned’ football can still be highly effective.
However, notwithstanding all of the above, the faux sympathy feigned by Moloney and McStay and the description of their efforts as a humiliation by one of their own are patronising, condescending insults to all involved that they do not deserve. Some people have short memories. 1985 and ’95 weren’t exactly show-stopping performances.
In fairness though, nobody in any era has ever come up against the phenomenon that this Dublin group have become. When somebody as self-serving as Pat Spillane concedes that they are, in fact, better than the admittedly magnificent Kerry team of which he was an integral part, it gives you some indication of which the rest of the football world are up against.
How exactly does one come up with a strategy to tackle an indestructible monster, never mind navigate a way around them. Consider that Cormac Costello came on and hit seven points against Laois, yet only got on with nine minutes left against Meath. To be followed by Paul Mannion and Kevin McMannamon. Doesn’t exactly weaken them, does it?
Ronan Jones was black-carded with about ten minutes to go, the only pity was that he, or somebody, didn’t make such a statement with ten minutes gone. Not in terms of doing anything untoward, just as a means of making a statement. Maybe to themselves as much as their opponents or anybody else.
Instead, in another of sport’s cruel ironies, it was those who didn’t need any declarations who made a devastatingly rapid one. During Jim Gavin’s reign, he demanded that, from a Stephen Cluxton re-start, his players get the ball to the opposition goal within 16 seconds. If it were possible, under Dessie Farrell’s guidance they’ve improved that PB by three seconds.
It’s doubtful has missing a free ever been as was the case after Jordan Morris hooked a free wide on the right with the sides tied at 0-02 each. From there, those on the search for six in a row hit 2-11 without reply. It wasn’t that Meath did much wrong. That would be hard, considering that Phileas Fogg went round the world quicker than it can take to get the ball back off Dublin.
Being honest, what really caused me greatest upset was that, immediately after the the game finished, the predictable ‘The manager has to go’ broken record was spinning. Right, I will admit, such overtures do cut a little closer to the bone presently with my neighbour and friend at the helm.
However, strip my personal connection out of the equation and such kneejerk reactionism still fails to make sense. Who exactly do people believe would do a better job. There’s nobody exactly pulling up trees. No team can, in fairness, be judged against Dublin.
The chasm between Meath and Dublin isn’t the fault of the current management. Nor was it that of those who were there before them. While there were a smattering of talented but luckless Meath underage teams which yielded plenty of players who represented the county at the highest level.
However, for too many years, there was no material success at underage level which meant there were only dribs and drabs of new talent coming through rather than a steady flow. Remember, it’s now 20 years since we garnered silverware at the grade after Minor.
Credit where it’s due, in recent times there has been a marked improvement in the peformances of our underage teams. Which has in itself promising newcomers like Eoin Harkin and Cathal Hickey and Mathew Costello and Jordan Morris and Jason Scully. All of whom have been positive additions to senior setup.
Doubtless, there will be some will scoff at least or sneer at worse at the following but I am being wholly honest in stating that, for reasons that far outweigh outweigh the football itself in importance I have to cling to whatever morsels of positivity can be gleaned from a given situation.
And yes, there were positives to Meath’s season. The blooding of the players mentioned foremost among them. Are there further improvements needed? Of course there are. Massively so. The goalkeeping uncertainty is still worrysome. So too the issue of place kicking.
For all that, while relegation is never a desirable outcome, it should be acknowledged that in no game were they overrun in Div. 1. Competing with gusto in all their games and were just devoid of the bit luck any team needs to be successful.
This may seem bizarre, but, given the stage this team’s development is currently at, it may not be a bad time to be in the second tier of the National League. Admittedly, two of the current All Ireland semi finalists will be resident there whenever the 2021 season does eventually throw in.
Even allowing for that fact, being in situ thence will give them the opportunity to start winning games again. That will hopefully give them the confidence they need to allow them reach the potential they undoubtedly possess.
Yes, last Saturday was a harrowing experience for all involved and all those emotionally invested in the wellbeing of all our teams. But, all things considered, think of it more like a reality check than the aftermath of a bomb site.
This is only my view, I’ve no doubt droves will disagree. That’s no harm, debate is good so long as it’s constructive and not negative just for the sake of it. There is still progress being made. Keep the faith.