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Boylan ghost still haunting Meath

THERE have been many strange happenings in the GAA this summer, and now we have the latest addition to this catalogue of the unexpected: the shafting of Eamonn O'Brien as Meath manager.

How can a manager who has led his county to an All-Ireland semi-final appearance in his first season, then a long-overdue Leinster title* in his second, find himself on the wrong end of a 32-29 vote by county board delegates?

What, in heaven's name, is the source of their disgruntlement?

If you believe in bad karma, then perhaps you will view Monday night's vote as the inevitable consequences of claiming a Leinster title* in such dubious circumstances.

Karma doesn't really come into it -- although this week's shock vote and the decision not to offer Louth a refixture may not be mutually exclusive events. It could be construed as the grassroots reasserting their authority against a county executive which had kept them out of the decision-making loop last July.

Whatever about this being pay-back against a top table pushing for O'Brien's retention, the now ex-boss is obviously paying the price for Meath's awful second half performance against Kildare, coupled with his minimal use of the bench that day (just two subs) to try and arrest the slide.


Nor did the loss of another team trainer help his cause. Sean Kelly recently announced his departure after just one season, citing study commitments, a year after Colm Brady left the same role after O'Brien's debut campaign in the hotseat.

This offers some context for the ire expressed by a majority of club delegates this week, but it still doesn't explain why they should sharpen the blade for a manager who has got Meath to the last-four, and the last-eight, in consecutive seasons.

It's only a theory, but Curve Ball has one possible explanation.

Here goes: five years after the great man's departure, Meath GAA still cannot move on from Sean Boylan.

They are trapped in a time-warp of long-faded glories. They have grown impatient for silverware, and by that we don't count Leinster titles* that can't even be celebrated properly. They want success, and they want it yesterday.

It's instructive to consider the length of service given by the last four Meath managers: Boylan -- 23 years; Eamonn Barry -- one year; Colm Coyle -- two years; O'Brien -- two years.

This is not to say the doughty Dunboyne herbalist didn't have to survive several challenges or would-be heaves along the way -- the watershed years of '85 and '95 stand out, while Barry launched a succession of failed attempts to oust the veteran towards the end of his gargantuan reign.

But the point is that Boylan held firm for well over two decades.

Needless to say, he wouldn't have survived so long if different playing generations hadn't thrived under his watch, in the shape of four All-Irelands, eight Leinsters and three National Leagues.

The next man in was always going to be compared (unfavourably) to his iconic predecessor, but Barry's difficult task was made far more problematic by his dysfunctional relationship with the county board hierarchy.

However, the flux hasn't ended with Barry's shortlived tenure. Coyle boasted a decorated CV as one of Boylan's on-field soldiers; but after reaching an All-Ireland semi-final in his first season, he promptly walked after a disastrous second, not even allowing officers or delegates the chance to consider their axe-wielding options.

O'Brien also had strong connections with the Boylan regime, as an All-Ireland-winning selector in 1996 and '99.

It should be recalled that he was only ratified following the protracted fiasco over Luke Dempsey's non-appointment, the latter having been originally recommended by a five-man selection committee.

O'Brien eventually got the job but he, too, has now suffered the consequences of failing to measure up to the vaulting standards of a bygone era.

The irony, of course, is that Meath have embraced the qualifiers with greater success under Coyle and O'Brien than they managed in the last years under Boylan -- both managers reached semi-finals via the scenic route.

O'Brien, too, has achieved what neither Boylan (in his last four seasons) or his two immediate successors managed -- win a Leinster title*.

By now, though, you're probably wondering about that recurring stray asterisk. The truth is that Meath's first provincial victory in nine seasons will always be tarnished in outside eyes by the surreal circumstances of its attainment.

Many Meath people, especially those close to the team, may not view it that way. Yet when delegates came to voting on Monday night, it's entirely likely that if Meath had claimed the Delaney Cup via the normal route -- say a perfectly legitimate Joe Sheridan goal at the death -- then that Leinster title would surely have protected the manager from any heave, no matter what blame could be attached to him for the subsequent Kildare defeat.


Instead, it probably feels like Meath lost their last two championship outings having surrendered half-time leads and lost their way completely thereafter.

While Meath mull over what happens next, it's intriguing to compare the recent course of managerial events among their chief Leinster rivals.

Managing Dublin may be the most pressurised 'gig in town', but Tom Carr served for almost four years, Tommy Lyons three, Paul Caffrey four, and Pat Gilroy is now gearing up for his third campaign -- and none of them has reached an All-Ireland final, let alone win one.

Kildare, meanwhile, are determined to keep hold of Kieran McGeeney who -- like O'Brien -- has reached an All-Ireland quarter-final and semi-final in the past two summers. And Geezer hasn't even won a Leinster title, with or without an asterisk!