Posted: 6:15p.m. 23/4/23
Updated: 3:35p.m. 24/4/23
“We’re in hell right now, gentlemen. And, we can stay here, get the sh*t kicked out of us, or we can fight our way back into the light”.Al Paccino – Any Given Sunday
It had to happen some day. Earnest hope was that it wouldn’t be today. For a multiplicity of reasons. But, for the first time in 33 years attending matches and 28 reporting thereon, I honestly don’t know where to begin evaluating what I’ve just seen in O’Connor Park, Tullamore.
Well, first off, hats off to the Faithful County. They were worthy and deserving winners. It’s not the first time they were the wedge that knocked over Meath’s tree full of ambitions. On the June Bank Holiday weekend of 2000, a Vinny Claffey-inspired tricolour brigade sent our then All Ireland champions packing.
Today was different though, on many fronts. Very few of them favourable to Meath. Back then, we had been beaten in a League Final replay after being rode worse than Facile Vega at Lepoardstown a few months back.
On foot of that odious looting by an easily led Galway referee and a vile, vindictive linesman from Tipperary, Meath were without Graham Geraghty not only for the league replay but the Offaly game in the Championship as well.
Flat and all as Meath unquestionably were that day, not only were they without their best and most important player, they had made it all the way through the National League to the final.
Tonight though, it would be difficult to find any such morsels of mitigation. Please know, from the bottom of my heart it gives me absolutely zero pleasure, copious heaps of torment in fact, to write the following, but, the first half today was the worst display I have ever witnessed from a Meath team.
Looking for a patsy among whom to foist blame is as pointless as it is counterproductive. Nobody, player or mentor, goes out with the wish for or intention of everything going wrong. Sh*t happens, or as I often says, some days it doesn’t!
Today, at times Meath looked like rabbits in a hail of headlights. You can be sure Colm O’Rourke, his fellow mentors and players prepared as diligently and extensively as they felt necessary and/or possible.
Some days, though, it just all goes to sh*t. And very quickly today, it was clear was about to be one of them. From this sitpoint, confused is the only way I could describe the Royal County setup, in the early stages at least.
Defencively, it appeared as if they were unsure as to whether to go man-to-man or set up in a zonal system with the idea being to keep Martin Murphy’s charges attacking around the fringes.
In the end, however, Meath were neither the chicken or the egg. Not knowing whether to stick or twist. Meaning that the Faithful County had free rein to do as they liked for the majority of the first half.
Which manifested itself as Nigel Dunne and Anton Sullivan causing havoc before wing back Rory Egan got on the end of a long Cillian Farrell ball and drilled past Harry Hogan.
It wasn’t until the 22nd minute Mathew Costello belatedly opened Meath’s scoring account. The classy Dunshaughlin forward then had another score chalked off when frustratingly fussy referee Seamus Mulhare overruled his umpire who was clearly better placed to judge.
Anyway, hope was that it could eventually be forgotten about if Meath were eventually roused into action. Which seemed possible when Donal Lenihan flashed over a fine score after 25 minutes.
Incredibly however, Colm O’Rourke’s crew wouldn’t trouble the flagmen again for more than a quarter of an hour. Allowing the locals turn around with a thoroughly deserved 0-02 to 1-08 buffer.
On several occasions this season already, our manager has spoken of contests being “Effectively over at half time”. I would expect or at least hope such a defeatist, negative mantra wasn’t at play today. Even though it would regrettably have been justified.
Gut feeling, mind you, was to reckon that – whether driven by management or players themselves, there was a revert to the patent which has brought us so much over the years. Don’t give up, don’t stand back and continue to do the simple things well and the rewards will generally accrue.
Essentially, Meath needed to do to Offaly what had been done unto them in the first half. And to a large extent they did. Outscoring their opponents eight points to three. Substitutes Jason Scully, Ronan Jones and Jack O’Connor all contributing fine efforts while Mat Costello was undoubtedly the pick of the front starting sextet.
Of greater significance though was the gnarly bit of fight they showed as they attempted to grapple hook the Titanic. There’s no doubt Jones entering the fray caused a shift, but so too did numerous and often mighty turnovers effected by players like Adam O’Neill, Ronan Ryan, Donal Keogan, Padraic Harnan and impressive debutante Sean Coffey.
Rescue attempts, while perhaps commendable, still leave a lot of questions unanswered which have festered for some time at this stage.
1. Are we playing zonal defence or old style?
2. Why do we find it so hard to kick points? i. e. Is it a confidence issue or paralysis by analysis?
3. Why have the goals dried up?
4. Do we know what our best 15 is?
5. At what point is the happy medium between being loyal to battle hardened warriors and throwing youngsters in to re-invigorate a flagging battalion?
6. Have we one (or two) settled, designated place kickers?
7. Is there any update on the longer-term injury cases? Communication means a lot to supporters as much as anybody but it must start from within.
8. Are we, as a county, willing to embrace the Tailteann Cup for what it is? Meaning (i) players and management seeing it as reflective of where we currently are and a chance to improve same. And (ii) are fans willing to get behind the lads and the competition rather than lambasting all and sundry?
It will be openly admitted that it’s at this point yours truly is somewhat lost for words but, to some extent, my theories on some but not all of the above will be laid out hereafter.
(a) – Defence: This is a case of what we’d like versus what we need. I would love nothing more than to be able to go man to man but the fact is it would be like trying to stop a Panzer tank with a garden hose.
(b) Points – I believe this to be purely a confidence issue. Winning and losing are both habits. Difference being that one transfuses confidence, the other decimates it. Against Cork and Clare in the league, we looked as if we could kick balls around corners. But once the spiral began in Owenbeg, strides got shorter, shots became weak and nervy and the goalposts seemed like they were moving.
(c) Goals – see above but multiply by as many as you like.
(d) Taking points four and five together, going on the assumption that, at some point during the campaign we get everybody – or as many thereof as possible fit again – the following, might be an interesting looking amalgam:
Harry Hogan; Adam O’Neill, Ronan Ryan, Harry O’Higgins; Donal Keogan, Padraic Harnan, Sean Coffey; Jack Flynn, Conor Gray; Ciaran Caulfield, Mathew Costello, Ronan Jones; Donal Lenihan, Shane Walsh, Eoghan Frayne.
That’s only one possible combination. No doubt there could be numerous variations of same being scribbled on Post-It notes and napkins on lunch breaks and in WhatsApp groups the length and breadth of the county on lunchbreaks today.
(e) The latter point merely serving to underline the interest in and passion for Meath football there is out there. No doubt there are smartarses quipping back to that to that about ‘players not showing much of in the first half’ and such dross.
Such ‘supporters’ are about as useful as a chocolate fireguard. It’s not even constructive criticism, it’s the usual cheap shot, finger pointing at the management and players. Ask them identify a remedy to the malaise and you get the usual ‘Sack the manager’ bullsh*t.
As it was with Seamus McEnaney and Mick O’Dowd and Andy McEntee and, indeed, even Sean Boylan at one stage, so shall it always be.
Look, anyone that knows me or has been reading my output for any elongated period of time knows how important Meath (and Dunboyne) teams doing well is to me on levels that far outweigh mere sporting results. It doesn’t matter to me what grade it is or who the players or managers are. I’d almost put up with Donald Trump managing Meath if I thought he’d improve us. Almost.
Like it or lump it, we are where we are. And, we now have a choice. Al Paccino put it better than I ever could:
“We’re in hell right now, gentlemen. And, we can stay here, get the sh*t kicked out of us, or we can fight our way back into the light”. Bit of a no-brainer, really, isn’t it.
In the immediate aftermath of what had to be a horrendous day for them, it was at least heartening to hear overtures coming from the camp that they are intent on ‘buying into’ the Tailteann Cup. As bad as things might be, if there’s any smidgen of the old Meath DNA left, it’s a competition we should be not only capable of winning but utilising to make a statement with an eye to the future.
Now, you might say we’ve no choice but to embrace it. But, as much as I don’t like it, players often do choose to turn their backs on the inter county scene in favour of a plane ticket. Meath teams have suffered more than most in that regard in recent years, with the departures of Conor Nash and Cian McBride to the bottom end of the world. That’s without mentioning the defections the Ladies team have had to deal with since last term.
That said, an appraisal of the journey the ladies have brought the county on in the last few years should show things in a different light. In fact, go back to 1999 and they contested an All Ireland Senior semi final. Thereafter enduring a spell in the doldrums which saw them relegated down to the Intermediate Championship. Moreover, such is the competitive nature of Tier II in the Ladies game that it took those who were then Eamonn Murray’s disciples three attempts to garner the Mary Quinn Cup.
The seminal point being that it was an All Ireland title. It may not have been the one we wished we were going for, but we couldn’t have got to what followed without first of all making that stop along the road. Moving on, aside from the nauseatingly predictable “O’Rourke has to go” bovine excrement emanating from some Meath ‘supporters’ in the immediate aftermath of full time (Instead of Colm, see Andy McEntee, Mick O’Dowd, ‘Banty’, Eamonn O’Brien or anybody you care to mention), the only other thing the bugged me as regards the aftermath of the day’s events was one idiotic Offaly supporter who quite obviously set up an online account solely for the purpose of chastising Meath fans.
Right, so it could be said that you have to thunder, and that these type are only looking for a reaction. But to label Meath as being ‘Entitled’ is nothing short of ludicrous. We have no reason to feel entitled to anything. Anyone thinking that we do is delusional. Seven All Irelands since 1884 is hardly patent sealing stuff. Even talk of it being a ‘new low’ for Meath is nonsense. It’s only seen as such since all the new systems, back doors and the like have come in. From 1884 to 2000, it was just a case of you were beaten, your season was over, see you when the league starts.
There have always been more bad days than good, and will always be. That’s why the annexation of the Centenary Cup in 1984 was so important. It was the seed from which everything that followed germinated. There’s no reason why the Tailteann Cup can’t be likewise now. Let’s get behind the lads and embrace the journey into the unknown.