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Wednesday 14 November 2018

St Peter's hold key as Meath seek to end club malaise

ROYAL CRUSADERS: St Peter’s of Dunboyne face Kilmacud Crokes this weekend. Photo: SPORTSFILE
ROYAL CRUSADERS: St Peter’s of Dunboyne face Kilmacud Crokes this weekend. Photo: SPORTSFILE

You have just emerged from the enemy's Wexford Park den with the most emphatic of victories, 1-12 to 1-2, over Shelmaliers.

Surely, with quarter-final home advantage to come, Dunboyne must be ready to give Leinster a bone-shaking rattle?

But no one is thinking that way. Not the bookies, who have priced St Peter's at 7/2 to win on familiar Páirc Tailteann turf this Sunday ... and at a distant 20/1 for provincial glory.

Why? Very simple.

The first and most obvious obstacle is Kilmacud Crokes; any club capable of surviving the Dublin cauldron is automatically installed as one of the All-Ireland favourites.

But the pedigree of Cian O'Sullivan, Paul Mannion et al is only part of it. Dunboyne could be playing Moorefield, Portlaoise or Rhode and you wouldn't be rushing to damn them with favouritism.

Truth is, the history of Royal representatives in Leinster's flagship club competition this century borders on deplorable.

That is no particular fault of Dunboyne, even if they did endure a 14-point mauling - against Kilmacud Crokes, of all teams - on their last provincial foray back in 2005.

But it does throw further critical light on why the Meath senior county team has been labouring so badly, by previous high standards, for much of this millennium.

You know the basic stats: Meath's last All-Ireland under Seán Boylan came in 1999, their last final appearance in 2001.

You may also be aware that no Meath senior club has conquered Leinster since Dunshaughlin in 2002, when they vanquished Mattock Rangers of Louth - a relative minnow - in the decider.

Two years later, Skryne reached the final only to lose against Portlaoise. And since then... nada.

A more forensic dig reveals an even more depressing picture.

If you dissect the 15 Leinster SFC campaigns since Dunshaughlin's success (2003-17), Meath champions have lost one final, four semi-finals, nine quarter-finals and one first round.

Just one of those quarter-final losses was preceded by a victory; one of them came after forcing St Vincent's (the eventual All-Ireland champions) to a replay in 2007.

Which brings us to their record against Dublin champions: six defeats and one draw in that 15-year period, by a cumulative margin of 43 points.

In fairness to Dunboyne, they have been knocking on the door in recent years and were fully deserving of this year's success.

Moreover, it's not as if Royal clubs were running amok when the county was flourishing: Meath's four Leinster club titles (Summerhill in 1977, Walterstown in '80 and '83 and Dunshaughlin in '02) came either side of the glory years under Boylan.

A more reliable yardstick is that Meath's last Leinster U21 title came in '01, and they only reached one more final before this year's switch to U20, where their early promise was eroded by a heavy semi-final defeat to Dublin.

Still, green shoots of recovery are pushing back the underage malaise. Is it asking too much for a similar club renaissance?

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