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Numbers game reveals the truth of big two clash


Jonny Cooper. Photo: Sportsfile

Jonny Cooper. Photo: Sportsfile

Jonny Cooper. Photo: Sportsfile

The history of Dublin/Meath used to be all about single digits and broken digits. A tale of narrow margin victories - and stalemates - ferociously contested around the margins of the rule book.

In recent years this narrative has been usurped by Dublin's double-digit domination, but what odds a miraculous Royal resurrection in Croke Park tomorrow night? We trawl through the numbers in search of an answer …

63 The number of previous SFC meetings between the blue bloods of Leinster football. The overall record leans decisively Dublin's way, with 36 victories compared to 19 Meath wins and …

8 Championship draws, three of those in the one summer of 1991. But long before that celebrated four-game saga, these best-of-enemies had revealed a habit for getting up close and personal. Their first encounter came in the 1894 Leinster final, which finished level (0-4 apiece) as did the first replay (a 0-2 apiece thriller) before Dublin went score-crazy in the second replay to win by 1-8 to 1-2.

16 What do you get by adding eight and eight? Answer: The number of players suspended after the 'Battle of Parnell Park' in 2008, either for red card infractions or retrospectively caught on video. Until last month's (more peaceful) reunion in Donnycarney, Dublin and Meath hadn't met in the league since that chaotic April afternoon. The eight Dubs hit with bans were Ciarán Whelan, Bernard Brogan, Paul Flynn, Diarmuid Connolly (all eight weeks), Ross McConnell, Paddy Andrews, Tomás Quinn and Eamon Fennell (all four weeks). The eight Meathies were Brendan Murphy, Seamus Kenny, Niall McKeigue, Shane McAnarney and Nigel Crawford (who appealed their eight-week bans, in vain, all the way to the DRA) along with Darren Fay, Caoimhin King and Peadar Byrne (all four weeks).

9 When you add the already-suspended Alan Brogan, this is the number of Dublin players left in a state of 'suspended animation', on a grassy Navan knoll, watching their team lose the subsequent Division 2 league final to Westmeath. Hard to believe, Dublin haven't lost a league game to any Leinster rival in the dozen years since.

10 This will be the (yet another) record number of consecutive Leinster titles won by Dublin presuming they justify their 1/20 match odds tomorrow. The last time they fell short was in a year also ending in '10 when, in a surreal semi-final, Meath hit them for …

5-9 This is not a Biblical quotation, but it certainly felt like the end of the world for Pat Gilroy's condemned men. Despite the eventual 11-point margin, it had been a fiercely contested battle until Meath cut loose in the second half, finding the net four times in front of a shell-shocked Hill. Goes to prove the old adage that goals win matches: Meath only scored nine points compared to Dublin's 13. And last Sunday they only scored nine points compared to Kildare's 15 … and won in a canter because they again scored five goals! Meath optimists will claim this 5-9 'coincidence' is a sign from above, whereas Royal realists will remind you that last year their team scored …

4 Yes, that was their paltry Leinster final points total in 2019. For all Meath's initial defensive defiance (they limited prolific opponents to five first half points) this mismatch underlined that you haven't a prayer against the Dubs without a bold attacking strategy of your own, the game petering out to a 1-17 to 0-4 conclusion. In fairness, it wasn't Meath's lowest summer tally against the Blue juggernaut - they failed to score even once when losing in 1921 (3-6 to 0-0) and again in the 1923 Leinster final (3-5 to 0-0). As a more promising augury, four was the relatively flimsy margin of defeat when Parnell Park league battle resumed last month, and it could have been a lot closer than 1-20 to 0-19 if Meath had taken any of their goal chances.

12 How times change. In the space of a surreal November week, Andy McEntee's born-again goal machine found the net on 12 occasions, seven times against Wicklow, five times (all in the second half) against Kildare. Jordan Morris has led the charge of the Royal rookie brigade with four of those goals. Now, if only Jonny Cooper, Mick Fitzsimons, John Small and James McCarthy would echo the generosity of their Garden County and Lilywhite neighbours …

52 Time for some reality bites - in their five SFC encounters since that 2010 outlier, Dublin have won by a cumulative 52 points. More specifically, the margins have been three points (2012), seven (2013), 16 (2014), ten (2016) and 16 again (last year). Moreover, the notion that Dublin could succumb to another five-goal onslaught should be weighed against the fact that they've given up just two goals to Meath in those last five outings.

1 Cup of tea, as in the one propelled by a boiling mad Meath fan towards Ciarán Whelan after the Dublin midfielder was sent off in the Battle of Parnell Park. Proof that, when it came to Dublin/Meath in the good old days, there was no such thing as a storm in a tea cup.

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