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Rivalry ready to resume

IT'S one of those statistical quirks that seems too ridiculous to be true. Alan Brogan, now in his 11th season as a Sky Blue senior footballer, has never faced Meath in a Leinster final.

That strange omission from the Brogan CV will be rectified in Croke Park this Sunday, when Dublin put their Delaney Cup on the line while trying to stay on the direct road to Sam Maguire retention.

The reigning Footballer of the Year is no stranger to Meath in championship battle, mind you. He was the year-one rookie dove-tailing brilliantly with the born-again Ray Cosgrove when Tommy Lyons' blend of seasoned Dubs and young cubs toppled Sean Boylan's battle-hardened Meath in a 2002 Leinster semi-final. He was also there -- older, wiser but doubtless wondering would All-Ireland deliverance ever come -- when rampant Royals went goal-crazy in another provincial semi-final, two years ago.

Brogan looks back on that five-goal blitz as a watershed moment of sorts for Pat Gilroy's dressing-room.

Beast

Prior to that, he had never lost to the old enemy in summer combat -- Dublin winning in '05, '07 (after a replay) and '09. But traumatic memories of that most recent encounter may partly explain his warning message that Meath are a "different beast" when it comes to championship.

"Meath certainly won't fear us, even though we've a 100 per cent record in Leinster finals (over the last decade)," declared Brogan at a Leinster Council press conference to promote the first Dublin/Meath provincial showpiece since 2001. "They're the only team that have beaten us in Leinster since 2005, so that in itself says something."

Still, only a few weeks ago, even the notion of a Dublin/Meath final seemed slightly fanciful. A Dublin/Kildare denouement was supposedly preordained.

"I'd said coming into the week of that match that I wouldn't be shocked if they beat (Kildare)," Brogan demurs. "Obviously Kildare were the favourites but Meath are a different beast in the championship.

"I think they showed that against Kildare; it ended up being a fairly comfortable win for them. So it will be tough on Sunday."

Not quite as tough, he hopes, as their last championship collision in 2010.

"I think between that game and obviously the All-Ireland quarter-final against Kerry (in 2009) when they beat us by 17, between those two games we decided we'd need to change something," Brogan harks back. "It probably was a watershed for us. But thankfully it hasn't happened too often since."

He continues: "I think it was a freak result. In fairness, some of the forwards they have are very talented ... and even though they got through on us, some of the goals were serious finishes.

"But in saying that, if you let them through that's what they're capable of doing. The likes of Cian Ward is a great man to get a goal; Joe Sheridan as well can score from anywhere nearly inside 21 yards. So they have that in their armoury."

It's probably forgotten that a game universally recalled as a rout was balanced on a knife-edge before Ward struck Meath's second goal in the 41st minute, after which -- as Brogan recalls -- "the floodgates opened. Maybe we panicked."

Panic is not a word you associate with Dublin in their subsequent reincarnation. Even their most recent display underlined the point: the All-Ireland champions struggled for long periods (against a Wexford side deserving of more respect, Brogan maintains), found themselves behind, had a man sent off ... and still had the smarts to eke out victory.

Hunger

"For any team that wins an All-Ireland, I suppose there's question marks about their hunger," says Dublin's constantly roaming No 11. "But I think we answered that question in the last 20 minutes to pull that game out of the bag, because we were really, really under pressure."

Dublin's reward is a final date with an evolving Meath team, roughly one-third of whose members will be young men of mystery to the holders.

"That's a bit like ourselves in 2002 when we won the Leinster championship; we had a lot of guys who weren't really known," Brogan points out. "It's certainly an advantage to Meath."

By contrast, Dublin's marquee stars are constantly in the shop window. Yet their veteran talisman insists that you never tire of days like Sunday. "These are the type of games you want to play in -- Leinster finals against Meath -- particularly if you're a Dub," he declares. "I haven't played Meath in a Leinster final before. So, even for guys that are there a long time, it's a huge game. I don't think you'll ever get sick of playing in Leinster finals."