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Wednesday 16 October 2019

Meath relish result but no end to Dublin's Royal rule

Meath supporters (l-r), Luke Casey (10) and Max Farrelly (11), both from Navan O’Mahony’s, and Finian Collier (10), from Bective, celebrate after the Seán Cox Fundraising match between Meath and Dublin at Páirc Tailteann, Navan
Meath supporters (l-r), Luke Casey (10) and Max Farrelly (11), both from Navan O’Mahony’s, and Finian Collier (10), from Bective, celebrate after the Seán Cox Fundraising match between Meath and Dublin at Páirc Tailteann, Navan

Who ever thought it would take eight-and-a-half years?

When Brian Farrell toe-poked home his team's fifth goal, adding late insult to self-inflicted Sky Blue injury, the balance of power between Meath and Dublin looked to have tilted emphatically back in favour of our reborn Royals.

It was the 2010 Leinster SFC semi-final, and Farrell's 68th-minute goal completed the scoring in a most surreal contest: a game balanced on a knife-edge for more than 40 minutes ended Meath 5-9, Dublin 0-13.

Coming on top of Dublin's 17-point collapse to Kerry the previous August, this 11-point humiliation appeared to suggest that Pat Gilroy's earwigs were as startled as ever.

All changed, changed utterly.

Since that watershed encounter, Dublin have won five Allianz League titles, eight consecutive Leinster finals - and six All-Irelands.

Meath have won a couple of O'Byrne Cups and (just a fortnight later) an instantly tarnished Leinster title at luckless Louth's expense.

Here's what else has happened since June 2010: Dublin had won five competitive clashes on the spin against their erstwhile arch-rivals, incorporating an O'Byrne Cup semi-final that didn't matter (in 2015) and four Leinster SFC ties (three finals included) by a cumulative 36 points.

This is the historical backdrop to what happened at Páirc Tailteann last Sunday, when Meath stirred themselves in the dying minutes and hit a perfectly-timed four-point salvo to defeat their nemesis in blue, 0-16 to 1-11.

What's seldom is wonderful if you're a reeling Royal. But context is everything, and there are multiple reasons why Sunday almost certainly doesn't constitute any sudden shift in this recently lopsided relationship.

Starting with the fact that it was only a challenge match, albeit for a most worthy cause (the Seán Cox Trust).

And the December timing: Meath are long immersed in pre-season training, Dublin have yet to convene collectively and haven't even embarked on their team holiday.

Then there's the relative strength in depth: Jim Gavin started with four of his All-Ireland '15' (Eoin Murchan, Brian Howard, Brian Fenton and Niall Scully) whereas Andy McEntee included eight of the team that started against Tyrone last June (Andy Colgan, Seamus Lavin, Conor McGill, James McEntee, Donal Keogan, Adam Flanagan, Bryan Menton and Graham Reilly).

So no one is going to get carried away by Sunday's result - Dublin's first defeat since their dead-rubber league clash with Monaghan in late March, at which point they were already through to the Division 1 final.

For all that, it was a decent Dublin line-up including four other outfield senior panellists and a solid core of U21 All-Ireland winners.

If you compare the Meath team that lost to Longford in the O'Byrne Cup on Saturday and the side that started against Dublin, it's clear McEntee targeted the latter.

So he was entitled to savour his first win over the old enemy. "Why wouldn't they take something from it? They still keep the scoreline, it's a game of football at the end of the day," he concluded.

But the end of Dublin's Royal rule? Not even close.

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