Heroics and heartache for battling Ratoath

On numerous occasions over the years, this writer has referred to Al Paccino’s Inches speech in Any Given Sunday. Mostly because it’s something I defer to very regularly. As a means of keeping the wheels turning.

On a more fundamentally sporting level, not only did it get me properly ‘into’ American Football but, even more than that, it gave me a first viewing of the greatest motivational speech I’ve ever encountered.

However, what the speech best encapsulate the minute margins by which sporting events can be decided. Remember, Martin O’Connell kept the ball in by inches to start the move which would culminate in Kevin Foley’s goal.

Or at Cheltenham some years back, when Lord Windamere got himself a few nose hairs ahead of the Willie Mullins-trained On His Own to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

On Saturday evening, metaphorically at least, Ratoath were left counting the cost of those inches as they lost out in a pulsating Leinster Club SFC semi final against The Downs from Westmeath at Croke Park.

Croke Park where, incidentally, there was only the Hogan Stand open. Which meant no disabled viewing facilities. For some unknown reason, there was none of same catered for in the most famous viewing area in Irish sporting. A thundering, degrading disgrace.

Moreover, it is something I am going to make a mission out of rectifying. As unfair and unacceptable as it is for anybody with a disability, being a journalist from one of the competing counties, that I am unable to join my local colleagues in the media facilities on the seventh floor of the Hogan is nothing short of discrimination.

Anyway, Ratoath got off to a postive start when Eamon Wallace went on one of his now trademark sallies up the field and drove over. Thereafter, the sides traded points, with the ebullient Daithi McGowan, Cian Rogers, Jack Flynn, Keith McCabe and Bobby O’Brien on target for David Brady’s side.

Daithi McGowan was majestic for Ratoath in Croke Park

Of all the things to undo this gifted and skilfull team in blue and gold, inclement weather seems an almost cruel foe. For it’s surely beyond doubt that climate conditions certainly caused the turnover which ended up being the first goal for those in black and amber. Not to mention the Ratoath rearguard’s difficulty in dealing with same.

To their immense credit though, Brady’s bunch galvinised themelves and the majestic McGowan hit four consecutive points to ensure the sides were deadlocked as they took shelter on the vile November night.

Again on the restart the sides traded points before, ultimately crucially, the Westmeath kingpins opened up a yawning gap between the sides with the aid of a goal from the outstanding Luke Loughlin. At this point, it’s worth doffing the cap to The Downs manager Lar Wall who, through his extensive knowledge of Meath football from his time as Gaeil Colmcille boss, would be well attuned to how the Meath champions go about their business.

Lar Wall is one of the best coaches around

He certainly had his charges well briefed on what to expect and for long spells in the game the intelligence seemed to have paid off but in fairness to Ratoath they stuck to their guns and slowly but surely hauled themselves back into contention with Brian Daly, Wallace, Daithi McGowan, Flynn and Cian O’Brien leaving every ounce of themselves out on the hallowed turf.

Now, Ratoath will most likely be the first to admit they were beaten by the better team on the day, but there’s no doubt a few marginal calls went against them while the fat was still in the fire. Even before The Downs had a score rightly rubbed out by HawkEye, another of their ‘points’ appeared to be well wide but wasn’t even checked. Furthermore, at least one of the frees awarded against the Meath side’s defence should definitely have gone the other way.

However, the valiantly vanquished had their chances and in the end that they couldn’t hit the net for a third game on the spin which was their undoing.

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