Alan Brogan: Meath humiliation in 2010 was the turning point for Dublin
Read Alan Brogan's exclusive column in The Herald every Thursday
TO this day, I don’t know why Pat Gilroy didn’t drop me in 2010 after we were hammered by Meath.
I had plenty of bad days as a Dublin footballer - some probably worse or more soul-crushing than that Leinster semi-final, the day Meath stuck five goals past us.
But there’s few enough I can say I was embarrassed about.
That was one.
We were blitzed. Destroyed. Humiliated.
Take your pick.
The irony of it was – though not that we could see it at the time - that day was every bit as important a link in the chain reaction that would see us win the All-Ireland the following year as the loss to Kerry the previous season.
It was a watershed game for that Dublin team.
You might say we were in a much different place then, but we were going for six Leinster titles in-a-row that year too, which would have made us the first team to do it since Dublin between 1974 and ’79.
That was in our minds at the time but more so, we reckoned we were coming really close to the big one.
We could feel it.
We beat Wexford easily in the previous game and everything looked rosy.
And we absolutely assumed we’d be back in the shake-up again.
Pat had given the team a fresh impetus and we had a very united group of players, with a lot of experience and plenty of talent.
Front door. Leinster title. Another crack at Sam.
And then Meath caught us completely on the hop.
It was shock and awe stuff. Totally unexpected.
As I said, an embarrassment.
Afterwards, there were five of us that Pat had a real go at; myself, Bryan Cullen, Barry Cahill, Mossy Quinn and Conal Keaney.
He sat down with us individually and showed us footage of moments in the match where we hadn’t tracked runs or worked hard enough or where we’d been lazy and left a very young defence very badly exposed.
In sport at that level, everyone has to be responsible for their performances. If you’re buying into a team ethos or a style of play, you have to make sure that you fill your piece of the jigsaw.
What was worse for the chastised five was that we were the experienced lads. We were the leaders but we let it happen.
For the next match against Tipperary in the qualifiers, Bryan, Barry, Mossy and Conal were dropped.
I was the only one of the senior group to avoided the guillotine.
Why? I’m genuinely not sure until this day.
Pat decided that he was going to make an example of the older guys for letting that happen.
Obviously, in times of crisis or when games are in the melting pot, you look to your more experienced guys to drag you through.
But they were big figures in Dublin football at the time and dropping them could have gone either way for that management team if we hadn’t salvaged something from the season.
Conal Keaney never really played for Dublin after that and he joined the hurlers at the end of the year.
Mossy, Barry and Bryan all got back in the following year and in fairness to those lads, they took it about as well as anyone could be expected to because we all believed in what Pat was trying to do.
That was the beauty of the group; the team came first. Egos were left outside.
The other significant change enforced by Pat after that match was how we defended.
We were, under strict orders, to keep six men at the back at all times. Never again would we concede goals so easily or frequently.
From then until 2011, our half-backs never really attacked. Our full-backs stayed put.
Six at the back. Always.
Mostly, we worked the ball through the midfielders to the forwards and we had to do the damage. But having six men at the back was the priority and very quickly, it made us very competitive.
We picked our way through the qualifiers, beating Armagh and Tyrone who, despite being on the slide at that stage, were the sort of team we didn’t beat too often outside Leinster.
We got to the 2010 All-Ireland semi-final playing a style we had thrown together mid-season after a meltdown against Meath and that game against Cork is still one I reckon we should have won.
Cork were a good team then at the peak of their powers.
They had been in plenty of semi-finals and they were physically strong and had experience and ultimately won the All-Ireland that year.
But we were six up with 18 minutes to go and we let it slip. If we hadn’t, we would have played Down in a final and who knows?
But even though we lost, it felt as though we were going somewhere again.
It took a crisis to make us realise we were like any other team if we didn’t work for another.
Coincidentally, Mayo find themselves in that exact situation at the moment. and I wouldn’t bet against them getting something of their summer if they can plot a similar path, get a couple of wins and find some of that lost confidence.
Coming into 2011, we were definitely a much stronger unit and as it happened, it was Meath who had shown us the folly of our old ways.
That, topically enough, was our last crack at winning six Leinster titles
in-a -ow, a feat the current team can achieve if they beat Meath on Sunday and, as expected, win the subsequent provincial final.
Ex-Dubs from the 1980s and 90s would have always told me that those games against Meath are the ones that define you as a Dublin footballer.
It probably changed a little bit by the time I started playing for Dublin you couldn’t honestly say there’s anything like the same kind of energy between the teams or even the supporters these days and it’s probably up to Meath to rekindle that.
I don’t think they’ll beat Dublin on Sunday, in fact I think Dublin will be comfortable enough.
But if Meath could make them sit up and take notice, we could have the makings of a decent rivalry over the next few years.
The Leinster SFC needs it. Meath certainly need it and in a way, Dublin could do with an opponent like that to sharpen the focus early in summer.
Meath are young and have lots of pace in their attack.
That’s a good start, though not nearly enough to question the result against a team as talented and experienced as Dublin on Sunday.
Still, someone’s going to beat Dublin in Leinster at some stage and the likelihood is they’ll do it from a position of being significant underdogs and few, if any, will see it coming.
We certainly didn’t in 2010.