Louth keen to avenge painful Royal reverses
IT HAS been billed as the grudge match of the season, but Louth have more than one reason to want to gain revenge on their bitter Royal enemies tonight.
Wee County players and fans still remember the heartbreak like it was yesterday.
After years of trying, they had Meath reeling on the championship ropes, only for that hotly-disputed injury-time goal to steal it from them.and we're not talking about last year's Leinster final...
Almost as hard to stomach as last year's smash-and-grab raid in Croker was the sides' meeting in the second round of the 2002 All-Ireland qualifiers.
Memories of that fateful Saturday night in Navan were understandably rekindled this week -- and with good reason.
With the back-door system only a year old, the qualifiers were still a huge draw, producing plenty of surprises, and 20,000 crammed into Pairc Tailteann for this big local derby.
Not even Alfred Hitchcock could have scripted the cliffhanging climax.
Paddy Carr, then Louth boss, still describes the loss as the most painful he has ever endured in management.
Sean Boylan, managing Meath for a 20th season back then, says: "It's amazing how it sticks in your mind. It was like what you'd hear about Louth and Meath back in the '50s."
When Mark Stanfield scored a fabulous sideline ball to put his side four points up with three minutes left, Louth finally looked set to pull one over on their arch-rivals.
Yet, somehow, Meath rose from the dead.
Supersub Richie Kealy grabbed his second goal of the game in the 69th minute, leaving Louth fans peeking through their fingers when the referee signalled for three minutes of injury-time.
The stop-watches were actually at 73 minutes and 50 seconds when the blond assassin struck.
Yes, who else but Graham Geraghty was the hero/villain of the piece, depending on the colour of your jersey.
Ollie Murphy ghosted along the right end-line and somehow found him in a crowded goalmouth.
Most players would have gone for the equaliser, but Geraghty, who Aaron Hoey had held scoreless all night, typically, went for the winner and the place erupted.
The fact that he promptly raced off and jumped into the waiting 'Kepak' helicopter, which had chauffeured him up from a wedding in Wexford where he was best man, only added further to his cult status and the dramatic denouement of an emotionally-charged evening.
Louth players wept openly afterwards and what particularly hurt was the timing of Geraghty's bullet.
They felt injury-time was well exceeded and were furious with Armagh referee Brendan O'Gorman, who needed a garda escort off the pitch.
Louth had just narrowly missed out on a semi-final place in a 'mixed ability' Division 2 league campaign that year.
They beat Longford in a replay in Leinster and Kildare then ousted them by a one-point margin and they already had a 'back-door' victory over Monaghan under their belt.
They were catching Meath at the ideal time, just six days after Ray Cosgrove's two-goal flurry had ousted them in a Leinster semi-final.
"It's often said to me that was a defining moment in the development of Louth football, it took a long time to get over that," recalls Carr, the Drogheda-schoolteacher and Kilmacud boss who still lives in Navan.
"Geraghty went for the goal," he remembers, still incredulous at the thought.
"Everyone in the ground, including the referee, I'd say, thought he'd just fist the ball over the bar, but he went for it.
"Armagh were one of only two teams to beat us in the league, we had actually beaten Kerry, in Ardee, and themselves and Armagh eventually contested the All-Ireland final that year.
"So, we knew we had a good team and they proved it that night. It was really a mental thing that defeated them; we could see the line before we got over it.
"We went up the field a few times and could have sealed victory, but we gave away possession and let them come at us.
"I learnt an awful lot from that game and one was that you've got to stay in the present tense," Carr says.
"Look at last year's Leinster final. Louth shouldn't really have been in that position in the end because they should have pressed on, but they didn't.
"Beating us in 2002 was a classic example of Sean Boylan's teams, his players always felt they could make things happen, as long as they were still on the field of play."
Meath failed to kick on in 2002, despite that legendary win. They trounced Laois in their next game, but bowed out tamely to Donegal in Round 4 and these days their reputation for doing a Lazarus has seriously receded, not withstanding last summer's Leinster final climax.
So, Carr believes tonight's rematch is a chance for one side to really seize the initiative.
"Both are coming off games where they performed badly, so they're in exactly the same place and this offers them a great second chance to kick-start their season," he says.
"Louth didn't look to have the right focus at all against Carlow, and there's always a belief in Meath they will have one big game and explode into championship form, so it's there now, for one of them."