Hard to beat tradition and belief
Published 10/08/2009 | 00:00
We can jazz up Gaelic football as much as we like, we can pack the dressing-rooms with all kinds of gurus, bring teams on motivational outings to exotic, expensive places and talk science until the cows come home.
Yet, after all that, one definite message remains above all nowadays -- a county's tradition and their method of playing the game is THE most important component for success.
That is why Meath swept aside Mayo with some ease yesterday, caused a major shock in most people's eyes and left their next opponents Kerry with problems they had never anticipated.
When we consider Meath were outclassed in the opening 15 minutes -- probably not helped by playing four games recently in the qualifiers -- their subsequent score of 2-15 by the end of the game was remarkable.
But then this is Meath and one of the most famous trademarks of their football is when they get a run on their opponents, they will blow them away with a rush of scores.
They have been doing this for a hundred years and never more so than in 2001, when they crushed Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final by 15 points. Yesterday, Meath banged over six unanswered points in eight minutes from the 62nd to the 70th minute in a staggering display of power football.
All this comes from the tradition of Meath football that you never give up and you are desperately hard to beat. At times, Meath teams play with flamboyance and panache, but that is not their trademark, even though they often played that way in the 1980s.
Yesterday, we saw the full repertoire of Meath's great tradition. They fought a mighty rearguard action when trailing by four points after 10 minutes. They then grabbed the initiative by scoring 1-5 with some style, compared to three points by Mayo. The game had close battles in the third quarter before Meath weathered another deficit of three points. That set the stage for the drama of the final quarter and the arrival of the spectacular finale of Meath's unanswered scores.
Tradition, if used properly, inspires young men to wear the county jersey and that is why we had so many new Meath players gracing Croke Park yesterday.
Meath's centre-half-back Cormac McGuinness, for example, dominated that area of the field and held firm during those dangerous times when the defence struggled in the opening period.
Seamus Kenny at half-forward -- but primarily playing as a midfield sweeper and commander-in-chief of breaking balls, of which there were many -- showed the great Meath mixture of class and hard graft.
And then there was Joe Sheridan, a man often debated by his fellow county men. His performance of sheer physical power on the ball and wonderful footwork at times was again typical of Meath football.
Anthony Moyles emerged as yet another Royal full-back who no opponent will look forward to marking, as he used his great experience to steady the backline in that potentially disastrous opening quarter.
The class of Caoimhin King was well known before this match and he also shined.
Meath manager Eamonn O'Brien has also justified his position after all the controversy surrounding his appointment and nobody understands the traditions of Meath football like him.
Mayo will see this result as a colossal setback, but, in my opinion, indications of problems were clearly visible in the recent Connacht final when they beat Galway, where gaps were obvious in several positions.
They did play some excellent football as their score of 1-15 indicates. But not all Mayo players were capable of putting their shoulder to the wheel to prevent the raging inferno that a rampant Meath team becomes in a big championship game.
There were several times in the game when Mayo had provided themselves with a platform to seal this game -- but they seemed incapable of maintaining their momentum and were soon gobbled up by the 'Meath factor'.
But, by any standards, their collapse in the final quarter was horrific and will take a very long time to overcome regardless of who the manager is next year.
In John O'Mahony, Mayo have had one of the best managers of all-time, yet some players failed to respond when the chips were down.
Overall, the first-half of this game was pretty poor in quality, with Meath in particular fumbling terribly in the opening quarter. But the second-half was transformed in quality and excitement and developed into a real old-style contest in which, in fairness it must be said, both sets of players showed terrific commitment and sportsmanship.
Mayo had problems in the full-back line for large parts of the game, which may be the reason for Meath's over-insistence on sending nothing but long, high balls into their opponents' goal mouth.
It worked sufficiently in this match but, undoubtedly, more variation will be needed to cope with the Kerry backline in the semi-final.
Keith Higgins was brilliant for Mayo all through this game including scoring a point from the corner-back position and Trevor Mortimer, even though in opposition to McGuinness, showed great leadership qualities.
But old frailties are hard to eradicate and when the pressure was on once again in a big game in Croke Park, Mayo as a team were found wanting when faced with that six-point barrage from Meath.