18 weeks later
From the highs of Leinster glory, Meath's new empire has crumbled into another Royal mess
Published 04/11/2010 | 05:00
WHEN Brian Farrell steered the ball past Stephen Cluxton for Meath's fifth goal in the closing minutes of the Leinster semi-final against Dublin last June, the Royal subjects dotted all over Croke Park believed they there witnessing the emergence of a new empire.
It was Meath's first championship win over Dublin since 2001 and had been achieved so spectacularly that the rest of the football world took notice.
Eighteen weeks and four days later, Meath are without a manager and proceeding rather clumsily towards replacing Eamonn O'Brien, whose reward for leading the side to the All-Ireland semi-final last year and to a first Leinster title for nine years last July was the sack.
It has been a traumatic time for Meath, much of which is down to themselves. Their reaction to the controversial Leinster final, when they failed to offer a rematch to a justifiably aggrieved Louth, didn't endear them to the wider GAA public.
Meath's subsequent defeat to Kildare in the All-Ireland quarter-final not only devalued their already tarnished Leinster success, but led to an in-house heave against O'Brien, who was voted out, 32-29, by the county board.
The process of finding a new manager has, not for the first time, run into problems, with the recommendation of a three-man committee, who proposed Seamus McEnaney for the position, becoming entangled in the complicated world of Meath GAA politics.
In the space of 18 weeks, the perception of Meath has dropped from a nine-year high to a level where they are regarded as: lacking in honour (because they failed to offer Louth a rematch); being ridiculously impatient (as they removed a manager who brought them a title); indecisive (it's more than eight weeks since O'Brien was voted out); and unpredictable (they appointed a committee to find a new manager and then stalled on the recommendation).
Of course, Meath have history in regard to the latter. Luke Dempsey was recommended to succeed Eamonn Barry in late 2006, but the appointment ran aground on procedural rocks amid claims that an influential lobby didn't want an outsider.
That McEnaney's recommendation should also encounter trouble four years later will inevitably lead to allegations that the 'outside' dimension is a factor and that some in Meath would regard seeking help beyond their own borders as conceding football sovereignty.
That they looked to Monaghan, a county with an inferior record to Meath over the years, made it all the more unpalatable for the 'home rule' brigade. That group would also point out that despite Monaghan's raised profile in the All-Ireland qualifiers and National League, they won just four of 11 Ulster championship games in six seasons under McEnaney.
Irrespective of the circumstances or the talent at their disposal, managers are judged on results and if Meath could reject a man who steered them to a Leinster title and lost only one of six provincial games in two years, it's hardly surprising that there would be opposition to McEnaney.
Whether it's based on clinical analysis of what he could do for Meath or purely on an anti-outsider mentality is the key issue, though one suspects that the latter may weigh more heavily in some quarters, especially as fellow outsiders Paul Grimley and Martin McElkennon are also on the McEnaney ticket.
Despite the initial problems, McEnaney's appointment still looks likely, but even if it goes ahead next week it won't alter the perception that Meath have become synonymous with messy managerial handovers since Sean Boylan left after 23 years in 2005. It's as if his longevity left Meath unprepared for the delicate business of appointing managers in a rapidly changing GAA world.
They are seeking their fourth manager since Boylan's departure, an attrition rate that points to a level of dysfunction which has to be of concern to the players and the supporters.
Among the more surprising elements of Meath post-Boylan has been how few of the players he coached to All-Irelands in 1987, '88, '96 and '99 have emerged for the top job. Other than Colm Coyle, who was in charge in 2007-08, there has been no apparent interest from them.
Colm O'Rourke is always installed as favourite once there's a vacancy and while he hints at being interested at some future date, that date keeps moving forward. It could be a case of tomorrow never coming. Gerry McEntee managed Dublin minors and club side St Brigid's but obviously doesn't want the Meath senior job.
The only two of Boylan's Boys to serve as inter-county managers are Terry Ferguson and Liam Hayes: Ferguson managed Fermanagh in 1995-96, and Hayes had a stint with Carlow in 2005-06.
There's no doubt that the thought of appointing an outside manager is repugnant to some Meath constitutions, but there's an alternate view that, in the absence of obvious home-grown contenders, it's a necessary move. The latter camp appears to be back in the ascendancy, but this week's interruption isn't helpful.
After having difficulties over previous appointments, Meath needed a smooth transition this time but failed to get it. That's never a good situation for a county or, indeed, for the manager who is appointed in such circumstances.