Royal templates usher in a new era

Meath… 2-13

Down… 0-14

In The Cure At Troy Seamus Heaney tells us “Hope and history rhyme”. Well, they most certainly did for Meath at Croke Park on Saturday afternoon as the county’s male senior footballers lifted a first trophy in the big field since 2010.

Hopefully that will at long last extinguish dross about that particular Leinster win. Though if the dust up against Mayo is anything to go by, that may be wishful thinking!

What I can tell you is this – the next person heard saying “It’s only the Tailteann Cup, “That’s all you lot are any good for” or anything of that ilk is liable to have tea thrown at them. And anyone aware of the fondness yours truly has for the said liquid will be very aware of the reluctance there would be to such a thing.

Any competition is hard won. Without it ever being a senior inter county one. Mention was made here previously that a re-branding of the competition to, say, to All Ireland Senior B or Intermediate Championship (for the Tailteann Cup) would increase the respect for and status of the competition.

In my view, Meath’s victory here is the most important notched by the county at senior level since the Centenary Cup success of 1984. Yes I do mean that. History has repeated itself. We came from the doldrums to beat Monaghan then and while the situation may not have been as grave now as then, we haven’t exactly been pulling trees up lately either.

None of what followed ’84 would have been possible without it. Likewise now, hope and expectation would be this triumph can be a springboard to greater things.

Speaking of expectations, mind you, it will be admitted that they were bolstered significantly (in this seat at least) by the mere fact that Colm O’Rourke finally took on the job. That was only heightened still further when he almost immrdiately announced that Sean Boylan would have a role in his backroom setup.

That said, deep down it was a case of reprising the phrase deployed when Andy McEntee took on the job – excited optimism tempered by a realism. Mind you, the latter part of that was very much parked (internally at least) when the lads produced two swashbuckling performances against Cork and Clare respectively in the opening two rounds of the league.

However, to his credit, the man patrolling the sideline on our behalf was forthright enough to state from the outset that there would be bumps aplenty along the road. Though it’s doubtful anybody inside or outside the camp expected it to be riddled with as many potholes as transpired to be the case for the remainder of the league.

Still, what was originally a derided draw against Limerick ended up being the crucial point which saved our skins from dropping to the third tier of the early season competition. It didn’t, though, halt the malaise which afflicted the team in the early part of the season. If anything, that hit a nadir in the Leinster Championship against Offaly.

It gives me no pleasure to reiterate the following but the first half in O’Connor Park on my birthday was the worst display the one seeing eye observed in 33 years of attending Meath matches. However, even in the rubble of disappointment of the day overall, there were flickers to suggest something better was possible. Namely, Sean Coffey excelling on his Championship debut, Ronan Ryan making the full back berth his own, Padraic Harnan returning to full fitness after several injury afflicted seasons and – perhaps most significantly – Mat Costello showing nous and leadership which both belied his tender years and fledgling career.

Now, those of pretentious tendencies probably sneered our participation in the Tailteann Cup and deemed the season a failure on the back of same but my response to such dross was and is simple – far better were we partaking in a competition whence we could win a few matches and build something rather than going out against the Kerrys or Dublins and getting seven shades of sh*** kicked out of us.

To that end, Meath embraced the Tailteann Cup for the opportunity it was. Giving new, young players their chance – 13 of them in all – and putting them in a position to get used to winning matches and the whole culture that brings. By the time they took to the field against Conor Laverty’s charges in Croke Park, they had accumulated five victories on the spin. Which, as far as can be deciphered is the best run the Royal County have gone on since 2001 when we made it all the way to the All Ireland Final.


Thank God Mattie Forde was a better footballer than he is a tipster because he wouldn’t manage to get sh** into a bucket in the latter sphere. How the odds compilers managed to make the Ulster side not only favourites but insultingly short priced market leaders is beyond me. Especially as we were higher ranked than the red and black in the National League and had already beaten them in the Round Robin stages of this competition. Having said that, fair play to the mug of a bookie who gave this punter 11/4 on Friday evening!

Jack O’Connor made a huge contribution in the second half

Earlier this year, certain self proclaimed, ill qualified ‘experts’ made fun of Colm due to the way he was setting the lads up to play. That is to say, the traditional Meath way – with physically imposing, athletic men, long kicking and the ability to kick scores from Cabra, as An Bainisteoir was famed for himself. Rather than be paralysed by over analysis and fear. Yet it would be remiss to acknowledge that their modus operandi did evolve as the season progressed. But crucially without altering their basic principals.

Utilising ferocious tackling and swarm defence that had Sean Boylan’s imprint all over it. Simply surrounding opposition players in possession until they had no option but surrender the ball. At which point, where possible, it got moved long and direct with lads encouraged to shoot if they have the confidence to do so.

No words needed!

Never was all of the aforementioned more in evidence than on Saturday when it was needed most. The ariel dominance of Conor Gray, the exquisite long range score taking of Jack Flynn and Jack O’Connor and the chaotic brilliance of Ronan Ryan, Donal Keogan, Padraic Harnan and Sean Coffey at the back.

Down settled the better but Meath had the first pivotal turning point in the match go in their favour when Flynn’s point attempt came back off the post and Ronan Jones was on hand to nudge it over the line.

That left the scores level at the time but in truth Meath were blessed to go in level, only due to an outstanding save by Sean Brennan and a glaring goal chance coughed up by Down’s Shealan Johnston.

No man deserved to lift a trophy more than our spiritual leader

When Laverty’s custodian Niall Kane posted the first two scores of the second half, it appeared the layers may have been right. On the contrary, Meath produced the best football not only of the O’Rourke era but for many a day.

Gray gave such a display of midfield excellence that even the perenially anti-Meath Ger Canning hailed the Dunshaughlin giant as “The new John McDermott” and the pair of Jacks in the pack hit a barrage of scores fitting for what was an occasion of the greatest significance for the county.

One couldn’t help but think of the Centenary Cup. None of what followed thereafter would have been possible without ’84. At least a small part of me couldn’t help wondering was a similar odyssey afoot again.

MEATH – S. Brennan; A. O’Neill, R. Ryan, C. Caulfield; D. Keogan, P. Harnan, S. Coffey; R. Jones (1-1), C. Gray; C. Hickey (0-2), J. McEntee, J. Flynn (0-4); J. Morris (0-1), M. Costello (0-2), A. Lynch (0-1).

SUBS – J. O’Connor (1-2) for Lynch, H. O’Higgins for Caulfield, C. O’Sullivan for McEntee, D. Lenihan for Morris, D. McGowan for Hickey.

Referee: Noel Mooney (Cavan)

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