Royal siege mentality
Meath emulating great Boylan teams by using unpopularity to fortify spirit
Published 31/07/2010 | 05:00
"Finally I appreciate that for the duration of this campaign it will be 31 versus one. I am happy with those odds."
The seventh and final point of the Creed in Dublin's 'blue book', a clandestine guide to the 2008 season and how it should be approached, sought to portray and cultivate a clear image.
Football wasn't a popularity contest, it wasn't a beauty pageant. It was hard and it was cut-throat. And when it came to those representing the biggest city on the field of play, geography played its part in the minds of everyone else.
It was the management's attempt to foster a siege mentality and in the end it failed. Dublin exited the '08 championship tamely, their attempts to embellish the "them and us" existence making little difference.
It could be that Meath may choose to paraphrase this extract from the creed and pin it to their own dressing-room door at around 3.40 tomorrow afternoon just as they are about to leave and journey into unknown territory.
For them, the odds -- 31 against one -- are pretty much the same now and they should be happy with them too.
Whatever else the bizarre end to the Leinster football final three weeks ago, and the fallout from it did, it attuned a wider audience to the progress, or lack of it, of Louth and Meath.
There was fascination last weekend as to how Louth would react two weeks on. And tomorrow, back in Croke Park, there will be fascination in Meath's state of mind too.
The Royals' decision not to offer a replay has, rightly or wrongly, created its own stigma.
In time, perhaps the GAA will give thanks to Meath for holding the line and not yielding to the moral dilemma they found themselves in. The precedent has been cemented, the rules upheld. There will be no more ambivalence in these situations.
That still doesn't make it any easier on those Meath players who, human nature being what it is, will always wonder how things might have transpired if they had lobbied for a rematch.
It's difficult to pre-empt. The logical thinking is that they couldn't have performed as badly again, and having won at the second attempt would have taken a bounce into quarter-finals. With peace of mind.
For now they are left wondering. How will the crowd, their own supporters apart, react to them? Will there be boos and jeers? Will, as the talk has been in Kildare this week, patrons with red shirts and white flags be dotted around the ground?
Or is the rest of the country just indifferent to it by now? Time moves on quickly. Surely the supporters of other counties have more concerns than letting Meath know what they think of them.
Of greater concern, something that has been lost in the fog of controversy, was the poverty of the Meath display. Long before the frantic conclusion, Louth should have killed the game off, as many a more ruthless team would have.
Meath were tense and nervous in the first half, failing to cash in on the dominance midfielder Nigel Crawford provided them with. They should be determined to get that performance out of their system.
In the past, Meath teams have traditionally reacted well to adversity and thrived on their unpopularity on the national stage. It has been grist to their mill.
In the late 1980s, when they assumed dominance from the great Kerry team, their rivalry with Cork took on a bitter undertone, particularly between the drawn '88 final and the replay. Meath players felt they had been on the receiving end of some strong-arm Cork tactics and resolved not to allow it to happen in the replay. Within six minutes, Gerry McEntee was sent off.
The match developed into an unedifying spectacle, with Meath content to foul in the knowledge that another of their players was unlikely to be sent off and that conceding a free would use up Cork's spare man.
Consequently, Meath were cast in the role of bad guys and seen as bad winners. In subsequent newspaper articles, Liam Hayes and Colm O'Rourke both made 'no apologies' for the tactics and the attrition.
Their style polarised opinion. Some loved the abrasive, hard-edged, uncomplicated way of doing business. Others saw it as a slight upon the game. They had to play out a dramatic four-match series with Dublin and lose two All-Ireland finals to regain some popularity.
But by the mid-1990s, as another team sprang from the careful husbandry of Sean Boylan, old sores opened up again after controversies in the '96 All-Ireland semi-final and final against Tyrone and Mayo. Once again, opinion was divided. You either liked their style or you didn't. You couldn't be indifferent to it.
It never impacted on those who played, however, or those who managed. Neither team fussed about its image. Boylan never closed the gates to anyone who wrote or commented adversely about his teams. His training sessions, by and large, remained open.
Last weekend Louth conducted a 'lap of honour' that ended with deep compassion from those Dublin supporters who stayed behind to salute them.
That little cameo will have brought around any Meath waverers there may have been within. The evidence is that they have battened down the hatches and fortified themselves for a potential siege.
Not a word has been spoken since the Sunday of the Leinster final. There is no point in trying to talk their way out of their predicament. They must play their way out of it.