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Exotic haircuts, luminous boots and maverick streak

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ROYAL FORCE: Meath’s Graham Geraghty battles for possession with Cork’s Kieran
O’Connor during the 2007 All-Ireland SFC semi-final. Pic: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile

ROYAL FORCE: Meath’s Graham Geraghty battles for possession with Cork’s Kieran O’Connor during the 2007 All-Ireland SFC semi-final. Pic: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

ROYAL FORCE: Meath’s Graham Geraghty battles for possession with Cork’s Kieran O’Connor during the 2007 All-Ireland SFC semi-final. Pic: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile

When it came to sport, ours was an ecumenical house.

Growing up in the 1990s, much live action was still free-to-air. So we'd roll happily from the Five Nations in the spring into Wimbledon and the Tour de France in the summer.

All our viewing was punctuated by regular helpings of 'Match of the Day' and 'The Sunday Game'.

Whatever was on TV, we were watching it. But if sport was readily available, then heroes were harder to come by.

Everyone wanted to run like Simon Geoghegan but the rugby team were expected to lose back then. For me, the golden age of Irish cycling had come and gone without a full understanding of it. Italia '90 was great but too soon for a six-year-old to understand the significance of it all.

As an Everton fan, there wasn't much to get your teeth into either. They were successful in the 1980s, picking up leagues and a Cup Winners' Cup. But by the time I could really get into them, they were being rescued from relegation by Barry Horne volleys and in-off-the-post Gareth Farrelly clinkers. Watching the pages change on teletext, hoping for a reprieve from relegation, did little to spark the imagination.

Respite

And while they won the FA Cup Final in 1995, Joe Royle's 'Dogs of War' could only offer a brief respite from the relegation battles.

The heroes would have to come from much closer to home.

Meath people of a certain age were spoiled. For a while, every summer offered a real chance of winning Sam Maguire. There were All-Ireland final appearances in 1987, '88, '90 and '91.

My clearest memory of that era comes from the 1991 decider against Down.

That had been the summer of the four-game saga with Dublin. And to a seven-year-old, it felt like that team always found a way to win.

Confused

I remember being confused that the referee had blown up the game before Meath had completed their comeback.

The Down supporters celebrating on the pitch, I assured myself, must have made some sort of mistake.

That team, and its players, were held in reverence. At the pitch at Carlanstown, where Martin O'Connell played with St Michael's, the teams used to change at opposite ends of a badminton hall.

Our club were playing them once and I remember being too shy to go and ask him for an autograph.

Years later, we played Summerhill in a championship match. Mick Lyons was their manager and he came in to our dressing-room and said the usual few words after the game. After the great man left, a team-mate asked if we should now genuflect. That was probably 20 years on from when he had last played for Meath.

But it was Boylan's 'second' team, that caught my imagination. Heading for my teens I was probably at my most impressionable. In 1995, Meath were hammered by Dublin in the Leinster final. The following year, Meath with a raft of new faces, won by two. A 12-point swing against the All-Ireland champions in 12 months.

There were any amount of heroes in that side. Darren Fay. Tommy Dowd. Trevor Giles. John McDermott. Everyone had their favourite. But, for me, it was Graham Geraghty.

Given his skill-set, Geraghty, strictly speaking, doesn't fulfil the 'cult hero' criteria but he had a maverick streak.

It was clear that he was going to be slightly different from early in his career.

He had scored 1-2 from wing-back in the 1994 Leinster final, after which he'd been name-checked by the watching Alex Ferguson.

He was brilliant again in the All-Ireland semi-final against Tyrone, plundering 1-4 from wing-forward.

By the time he captained Meath to an All-Ireland in 1999, he was operating at full-forward.

There was an easy brilliance to Geraghty, underpinned by a coltish athleticism that saw him earn a trial with Arsenal.

Then came the exotic haircuts and luminous, embroidered boots. It was an intoxicating mix.

He'd a way of getting under opponents' skins too that only endeared him more to his support. He would go from seemingly uninterested to bearing down in goal in a matter of seconds.

Off the pitch he was a free spirit too. He appeared in a martial arts film 'Fatal Deviation' alongside Boyzone's Mikey Graham and later ran in a General Election.

As sports editor of a local paper in Meath, I recruited Geraghty to write a weekly column. He was part of the county panel at the time and noted that a member of the county's management team had expressed concern about him writing a column.

"I told them to f**k off," he deadpanned.

Years later, I'd play against him regularly. By this stage, he had transferred from his native Seneschalstown to the Athboy-based Clann na nGael club. Geraghty, of course, was the best player in those games by some distance.

Up until a couple of years ago, he was still making headlines. He made his Sigerson Cup debut with Blanchardstown IT at 40. A couple of years ago, he grabbed a late goal to secure a draw in an all-county Division 3 match.

Clann na nGael were seemingly out of it going into injury-time, but Geraghty found a way and rattled the net.

Old habits and all that.