Saturday 7 December 2019

When the Dubs do finally succumb, it'll come totally out of the blue

Last defeat to Royals was 'a freak'

Dublin’s Alan Brogan is chased by Westmeath’s James Davitt during the Leinster SFC quarter-final at Croke Park in June 2004
Dublin’s Alan Brogan is chased by Westmeath’s James Davitt during the Leinster SFC quarter-final at Croke Park in June 2004

One of the strange things about being a former inter-county player is complete strangers coming up to you on the street and asking what you think.

You know the situation where you're walking through town and someone in a yellow t-shirt, holding a clipboard with a laminated ID dangling from their neck, tries to catch your eye to see if you'll give them your debit card number, so they can save the whales or whatever?

It's like that.

'How did you think the match will go?'

'What's the story with such-and-such being injured?'

'Will he drop yer man?'

It's Wednesday now on the week of the Leinster final and not a single person has asked about it. Not one.

The only enquiries passers-by have for me these days is whether Dublin will win the five-in-a-row.

I'm sure there's tension and drama to come this summer for Dublin but it might only be right at the end of it.

I don't know what the anticipation is like in Meath, but judging by the size of the crowd they brought to Croke Park for the Laois game, expectations don't seem to be huge.

Which, considering they finally won promotion back to Division 1 and the prominent place football has had for supporters of the county, seems a bit strange.


I'm not going to make an argument here for Meath winning this game.

But I do know that whenever it happens that Dublin do finally lose, it will come completely out of the blue.

When Meath beat us in 2010, it was one of those moments.

We weren't miles ahead of them at that time but people might forget we were going for six Leinster titles in-a-row that summer.

OK, we hadn't won an All-Ireland.

But previous to that, the last time we were beaten in the province was 2004 by Westmeath and even if there was still a detectable rivalry with Meath at the time, we were far too focused on Sam Maguire, and bigger things outside Leinster, to spend too much time worrying about local squabbles.

That day was a freak.

I looked back on it recently and Meath were worthy winners, but they had a day of days when everything they hit went into the back of our net.

Brilliant finishers

They had some brilliant finishers in Joe Sheridan, Stephen Bray and Cian Ward and some of their finishes, particularly Sheridan's, were as good as anything seen in Croke Park before or since.

There wasn't even anything you could say to Stephen Cluxton afterwards.

He hadn't a hope of stopping any of the five goals.

There was, however, plenty Pat Gilroy had to say to a few of us the following day.

Instead of consigning it to systemic failure, Pat picked out clips of little incidents where we were culpable that led to us being punished.

There was one moment where, after conceding a free, we moaned to the ref rather than getting back into position.

Bang. Goal.

Lads turned their backs on another free and Meath took it quickly and we were opened up again.

Bang. Goal.

Two players went for the same ball and collided. It fell to Sheridan.

Bang. Goal.

The scoreline was 5-9 to 0-13, so we had almost as many scores as Meath did that day, but obviously it was a chastening experience.

People ask whether it stung for longer because it was Meath that beat us but, to be honest, we were so shocked by what happened that that really didn't come into it.

That morning, we had an idea about where we stood in the grand scheme of things, where we were going to go and a vision of how we'd get there.

Then out of nowhere, it seemed as though everything we thought we knew was wrong.

Everything went out the window then and nobody could be sure of themselves any more.

We were beset with uncertainty.

Anyway, Pat felt there was a lack of leadership on the pitch.

He took five of us into a room - me, Bryan Cullen, Barry Cahill, Mossy Quinn and Conal Keaney and told us as much.


Four were dropped for the next match against Tipperary and, to this day, I have no idea why I'm the only one who survived.

It's nuts to think that's the last time Dublin were beaten in Leinster but, naturally enough, it was Meath that did it to us.

We may have been going for six Leinster titles in-a-row that year but Meath went into that game fully convinced they'd win it.

You could feel it in the way they played.

Whether the current bunch will bring that mentality with them to Croke Park on Sunday, I'd be sceptical.

In the four Championship matches the team have played since then, Dublin's winning margin has gone from 4 to 7 and then out to 16 to back to 10 again.

There's too much ground to make up here.

Even the old tactic of evening out the game by physically putting it up to Dublin is unlikely to turn out too well for Meath, given the Dubs' superior physicality.

But they can make it tight. And they can go direct to Mickey Newman and hope that even if he doesn't score, James Conlon or Bryan McMahon are hovering around for scraps.

Kildare avoided the concession of a goal yet Dublin ran up a 15-point victory, so there's no easy way of going at this.

Meath are going to have to win a high percentage of their own kick-outs, carry the ball extremely carefully and try and hit Dublin for goals.

What's important for Meath is to turn up and perform, gauge themselves against Dublin and then respond well in the next game.

Making the Super 8s would be seismic for Meath. Those three games, regardless of how they go, are just priceless to a team on the up.

With Division 1 football already secured for next spring, it's another chance to acclimatise with the strongest teams in the land.

Dublin are at an all-time great level just now and I'm sure Andy McEntee's ambition, ultimately, is to knock them from that perch.

But they'll need at least a year surviving the company of the rest of the pretenders before they're properly equipped for that.

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