| 5.3°C Dublin

Ready to hit Meath where it hurts

SUNDAY, April 20, 2008 may not go down as one of the more storied moments in the fabled Dublin/Meath dynasty, but it might well serve as a microcosm as to what can happen when tempers flair between narky neighbours.

With Dublin chasing promotion back to Division 1A and Meath, well, being Meath, not keen on facilitating such a development, a flashpoint ensued in Parnell Park.

In GAA parlance, it might have initially been a shemozzle, then escalated into a mild skirmish and, in turn, broke out into a full-scale melee.

Given the hefty number of players involved (27, as counted in one picture) and the colour of their respective jerseys, public outrage and Croke Park retribution was always going to be located on the hysterical end of the scale.

Paddy Andrews and Bernard Brogan were singled out by Paddy Russell (the Tipperary ref himself a veteran of 'Charlie-gate' in 1995 and 'The Battle of Omagh' in 2006) along with Niall McKeigue and Shane McAnarney and all four were shown red cards.

Just for good measure, Ciarán Whelan went for a swipe on Seamus Kenny, thus reducing Dublin's numbers to a historically convenient dozen, and then suffered the ignominy of having a polystyrene cup of tea hurled at him from the stand in Parnell Park for his troubles.

Fingered

And wait ... there's more! The CCCC congregated and duly fingered a total of 16 combatants and banned them and so the whole sorry episode gave new meaning to the notion of feisty local rivalry at a point in time when, like now, many were bemoaning its lack of historic flintiness.

"Sometimes with a rivalry like that, it tips over when something happens on the pitch," reflects Brogan now, some four years later and, presumably, much the wiser. "It can add a bit of spice like that at times.

"But no, I think it was just one of those days," he responds when it is suggested that the row only entered the realms of unseemly because of the identities of the two teams.

"No one was backing down but there was never any malice or no real punches thrown. It was a lot of pushing and shoving.

"There were no flailing digs or anything like that. It just looked bad, I suppose, because there was so many people involved, and plus the fact that it was Dublin and Meath, so there was a lot of attention on the match anyway."

The story rumbled on for weeks. Firstly, Whelan publicly accepted his eight-week ban but days later, Pillar Caffrey blasted that the players suspended had been "hung out to dry" by Croke Park's disciplinary arm.

He also felt compelled to publicly state: "I'd like to refute the allegation of Dublin being a dirty team," hardly the ideal situation to find themselves in in the weeks prior to beginning their championship campaign.

"There was a lot made of it, especially in the media and it probably got out of hand," Brogan reflects. "But we didn't really see what all the fuss was about. The fans probably make more out of it than players do in a situation like that."

In hindsight, it all seems a bit strange to Brogan now. Hardly an 'enforcer', or a player to go out looking for trouble, it was he nonetheless who Russell fingered first.

Whatever.

Laugh

It's an episode of his career which, given all he has achieved since, he can begin now to laugh about.

It's not, however, what he immediately thinks of when he looks forward to taking on Meath on Sunday. Previous battles, as he and all of his vintage have been programmed to think, mean nothing and even storied rivalry has no bearing on how Sunday will go or to what temperature the exchanges will reach.

"Before the Kildare game people were saying that they were an average side and that they would get shown up this year," he notes. "But they have great footballers.

"We all know the footballers that they have.

"They have gelled well together over the last couple of years. We saw the last day that they're a serious outfit when they're on song."

The rivalry thing, he points out, works both ways.

"When they come up against Dublin, it's a massive game for them too so they always come up strong. They will know us well. They'll have been keeping a close eye on us and they'll be looking to turn us over." Meath, no doubt, could do with an out-of-sorts Bernard Brogan lining out against them on Sunday. Most recent evidence suggests his game is not in pristine shape but he hasn't, it must be said, played two bad championship matches on the spin for Dublin in some years.

By his own admission, it didn't happen for him against Wexford and he muses as to whether the Slaneysiders have become "something of a dodgy team for me now".

"I'll go out and do a bit on my own, just a bit of kicking because that's really what was wrong the last day," he says.

"There is no point in beating yourself over these things, though. You get back on the horse and go training and work hard and try your best and hopefully the next day, things will come right."

Meath's rise from no-hopers to unlikely Leinster contenders isn't something that Brogan is surprised about either.

Potential

"This year, there has been a levelling out of lots of teams," he insists. "I think a lot of teams are very close to each other at the moment and have the potential to win the All-Ireland, so there won't be any easy games from here on in.

"It just means that we won't be afforded any slip-ups.

"If you play a bad game now, the chances are you're going to be beaten so it's up to us to make sure we're on form for every match we play. Otherwise, we'll be going out early.

"At the moment, we're not looking past the Meath game though. It's huge."

Just don't mention the war.