My mind often fluctuates in thought regarding how Meath’s greatest ever team – that at their zenith between 1986 and 1991 – would fair out in the Gaelic football of today.
Part of me thinks they wouldn’t last jig time owing to a combination of snowflakes having the game sanitised to a point of no recognition and negatively minded managers who ingrain in their players a fear of losing the ball and conceding scores which in turn leads to a paralysis in attack which starts the whole rotten cycle all over again.
But then, every so often, an antidote appears which makes me feel they would still be able to mix it with the best of them. Cavan proved that today even though they ended up on the wrong end of a very entertaining encounter with Donegal.
Yes, through players such as Padraig Faulkner and Jason McLoughlin and Killian Clarke, they engage in the hard running in which the possession-obsessed place so much store. However, where Mickey Graham’s charges differ from their contemporaries is that they in fact have a Plan B.
Reformists might called it old fashioned or pedantic but, you know what? It works. That is to say, playing long balls into a forward capable of winning his own ball and thereafter making something productive thereof.
Step forward Paddy Lynch. The full forward gained notice when notching 2-4 in the Breffni County’s Div. 4 final win over Tipperary. Before continuing his sparkling form against Antrim.
In the early part of Sunday’s clash at Clones, between Ray Galligan’s long kick outs, his brother Thomas driving over long range scores off either boot and Lynch giving Donegal’s Brendan McCole a right roasting, you could have swapped the names to Mickey McQuillan, Liam Hayes and Brian Stafford.
Now, ultimately, the concession of two late goals – courtesy of substitute Conor O’Donnell and Paddy McBrearty – did for the boys in blue. But they will have shown enough to offer hope on two fronts.
Firstly, from their own perspective, their affable manager seems to have them infused with an infectious positivity which should see them well capable of making an impact again as the summer goes on.
Secondly, though, Cavan’s use of the long ball and, moreover, ability kick scores from parts of the field which to the likes of Colm O’Rourke, Bernard Flynn or PJ Gillic were chicken feed. Proving that the basic and beautiful parts of the game still have a role to play. Not only that but they are a simple and effective way of nullifying the usefulness of mass defence.
Maybe it was just a day for seeing too much of yourself in others. In good and not so palatable ways. Because as good as it was to see Cavan play football the old – and best – way, to witness Limerick being villified in some quarters following their comeback win over Tipperary was all too familiar.
Firstly to the more positive side of things though. You wouldn’t need to be Stephen Hawking to know that – despite their brisk and impressive opening – John Kiely’s side were not at their clinical best in the first half. That said, part of the reasoning for such being the case is to the credit of Noel McGrath and his colleagues.
Tipperary remain perhaps the biggest enigma in Irish sport. Undoubtedly supremely talented, but often so stop-start that observers – possibly even their own people – are left wondering will they ever really fulfil their obvious potential. Because winning an All Ireland every five years or so is not that.
They were a beaten docket as far as this year’s championship is concerned before taking on the All Ireland Champions on Sunday, but, thanks in no small part to the majesty of Noel McGrath and in spite of their manager’s histrionics on the sideline, they hurled with a fluidity and freedom which suggested – and again not for the first time – that there could and should be better days ahead for the Premier County.
Having said that, when the home side put their collective boot on the diesel pedal it (a) demonstrated how lethal this Limerick lineup can be when they let the clutch in and (b) how much of a chasm Tipp – and the rest – have to make up if they are to retain any realistic notions of toppling the Treaty men any time soon.
For you see, it was in that blistering ten minute spell that thoughts again returned to the most glorious days for devotees of the green and gold. From the outstanding Aaron Gillane’s second goal to the manner in which points were rifled over by Barry Nash, Diarmaid Byrnes, Declan Hannon, Gearoid Hegarty, Gillane and the brilliant Tom Morrissey.
In this mind’s eye, it recalled Meath’s defeat of Armagh in the 1999 All Ireland semi final. The Orchard County had rocked our lads with goals from Damien Horisk and Diarmuid Marsden.
However, just like Limerick most recently, the green and gold began to reel in the leaders – with Dunboyne’s Enda McManus even among the scorers – as a 0-15 to 2-05 win was recorded.
Alas, in a scenario which is also all too familiar, Limerick’s redoubtable display didn’t get the coverage or commendation it deserved because – as we know all too well – when you’ve been on top for what the others consider too long, like a certain Irish political party, if they can’t beat you the conventional way they’ll go digging for dirt.
Cue the furore about the Aaron Gillane/Ronan Maher collision in the Gaelic Grounds on Sunday. Before getting into the nuts and bolts of the issue, a few points:
1. The Patrickswell clubman has seen the Red Mist previously for miscalculated actions.
2. His challenge on the opposing centre back was late and reckless but it would be my contention that there was no intent.
3. To his immense credit, Ronan Maher himself made nothing of the challenge. Just hopped up and got on with the game. As it should be.
Anthony Daly reckoned even the yellow card was “50/50 at best”. The thing is, ‘Dalo’, like many of us, is a man from a different era. A time when men were men and Gaelic Games were played with a fierce physicality and manliness that made them what they were.
Belts were given and taken, brushed off and in a strange way, admired. While the making compulsory of use of helmets is understandable given the scientific and medical evidence, but it also says so much about warriors of the past.
It was almost a badge of honour to hurl without a helmet. Without pausing to draw breath, one could very easily pick a star studded line up who went bare headed. Simple times. Better times.
If you exclude the helmet matter, Limerick are a magnificent hybrid of the ‘old’ game and the ‘new’. Able to do things the so-called ‘ugly’ way or shorten the grip, play the short ball, break tackles and run hard.
Should Kiely or his crew require any verification they have ‘made it’, they need just consider the following – opponents denouncing the manner in which they do their business.
When you start getting more dodgy refereeing decisions against you than in a boxing ring. Gearoid Hegarty may have admitted he was in the wrong when dismissed in the league game against Galway but it was still frivilous at most.
As for Cian Lynch’s red card in the Fitzgibbon Cup Final, utterly ridiculous. Yes it was rescinded but it shouldn’t have been in the first place. Mind you, there are patterns emerging with certain whistlers who have far greater profile than they merit.
Finally, the most ridiculous comment observed was that their great sponsor had “Paid off referees”. The simple explanation is that this is Limerick’s time and there’s no indication it will end anytime soon. If you’re lucky enough to be from Shannonside, enjoy it, if not, just admire it.