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Colm Keys caught up with four of the protagonists of the game

Colm Keys: Twenty years have passed since the four-game series. Does it still burn brightly on the GAA landscape?

Jack Sheedy: As soon as you have a draw in the championship now, people refer to it, so it remains a very big landmark.

David Beggy: Irish soccer was really going well after Italia 90. There was a huge swell in the public perception of soccer. The focus had gone off Gaelic football, so no doubt it was a watershed. It certainly changed the view of football with the public.

Tommy Carr: Do we know factually that attendances increased afterwards? I know that argument is put forward that it was transition from mediocrity to something else, but I just wonder how much. You had the '70s and '80s with Dublin and Kerry, they were the rejuvenation of GAA games. But I think it was a culmination of Dublin and Meath over the previous five or six years. If it was a once-off that Dublin had met Kildare and played four games, I don't think there wouldn't be as much about it.

DB: They were the two best teams in the country at the time. That's not meant to be disrespectful to Cork. But the general public's perception was that they were the two best.

TC: It's kind of where Munster and Leinster are now.

Bernard Flynn: We didn't do Dublin justice by letting Down beat us. At the end of the day it was great but ... If Meath weren't around at the time, I have no doubt that Dublin team would have won an awful lot more. And if Dublin weren't around we would have won more.

TC: Maybe, Bernard, you wouldn't have won as much. I think a lot of the games you played against Dublin prepared you for what came after.

BF: We certainly opened the door for the northern boys that year. They won four-in-a-row after that.

CK: Did it take from it that you subsequently didn't win the All-Ireland?

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BF: Absolutely.

TC: I would think so.

BF: What Dublin went through at the end of the fourth game. I always remember Tommy's speech in Mansion House, which was an incredible speech. We were all shocked. It said a lot about Dublin and about Tommy as a person. We had that feeling, believe or not, when Down beat us later in the year.

CK: Was there disappointment for you Dublin players when Meath lost to Down?

JS: It's funny, I'd rather see a Leinster team winning regardless. If you weren't involved yourself, I'd always have felt a sense of allegiance to a Leinster team. Having gone through the four games, I would have empathised in a private way with the lads.

TC: I would say, honestly at the time, I was delighted Meath didn't win. You would have said at the time 'f*** them, that could have been us'. Now you look back and say: 'Wouldn't it have been great if you did win it', because the sting has gone out of the rivalry. But you have to understand, we didn't like each other at the time, so why would we want them to win an All-Ireland after beating us?

DB: Ye had played probably played three of the four games better and that was going to be hard to stomach.

CK: Did you feel cheated to have lost?

TC: No, we didn't feel cheated because they didn't win it. If they had won it you would have felt cheated, or you would have felt hard done by, or you felt you sold yourself short because, as David said, in three of the games we had it won.

DB: I was thinking a lot of us had started playing against Dublin in 1986. We had no history of Dublin catching us. There was no fear inside when you did get ahead, same old story.

TC: I'd look back -- and Jack probably agrees -- we had played football together since we were 12 years of age in Lucan. We lacked that little bit of Meath thing.

JS: I don't think we mentally took our foot off the pedal, but I think we had a collective lack of depth to actually go and win. If Meath had got into those positions, we wouldn't have got back into the game.

CK: Did it scar Dublin for years after that?

TC: I don't know about you, Jack. We had been knocking on the door for years. It took it out of me. I 'd have to say I said: 'F*** this for an effort, how many years do you have to give at this crack.' After those four games I was actually on a career course in the army. But I could not switch back on to it. I actually got paraded two weeks after it because my attitude and behaviour was wrong. It was bad. They had facilitated me through four games in the five weeks and I didn't reciprocate. 'Where was I now. It's not looking good.' All that.

JS: I thought that was just me. I was the same. You were just in a bubble.

TC: Crawling around the Curragh in combats and the sweat pumping out of me helmet and me thinking about 60,000 people in Croke Park!

BF: Trying to go to work around those four games, it was extremely difficult. You were different with people.

DB: One important thing in the fourth game, a free-taker put up eight to 10 frees a match back then, Dublin took off both recognised free-takers that day. Now Jack, you were asked to kick a 70-yard free. You got the distance. But it trailed off wide.

BF: Tommy going off, he was one of the best players as well.

DB: Because scoring was so important from frees, because you could foul all you want, to have no recognised free-taker was a strange move from the sideline.

JS: In the games when we got ourselves into good situations ye always scored a goal.

BF: We were dead and buried in the third game. The one Dublin player I would have felt for. Vinny Murphy (who spurned a great goal chance). That was a massive moment.

JS: It was everything.

TC: That was the moment.

BF: If he put the ball over the bar the game was over. That was nothing to do with Meath.

CK: Mick Lyons thinks it's bad football when you look back on it now. Anyone take out the videos lately?

JS: Not in a couple of years now. Compare them with today's football, for sure they are very different. You took on your own opponent in a one-to-one basis. That's not in today's game. They were the characteristics that people looked on players to deliver.

BF: Present-day players get sick when they hear about the four games and what we did. I know that. We were the same. We referred earlier to maybe why Dublin didn't win those games. Going into this Sunday, those same things hang over the present Dublin team, don't they?

TC: They are characteristics of the team the county, the people, the whole lot. Kerry have the same characteristics today that they had 20 years ago. They are all cloned.

JS: I don't think the football was all that bad.

DB: It was good for the time. These days a good game of football is based on huge pace, possession and the nice touches from inside forwards. There is nobody talking about the big hard full-back or the half-back like a terrier and he'd nail you for getting a ball. It was a pitch battle where you stood your ground.

TC: It was more an individual thing.

CK: Were not some of the tackles unacceptable, however?

BF: Two things stick out in my mind, the tackle that Mick Lyons made on Paul Curran, and Colm Coyle on Mick Galvin. I have never, to this day, seen anything like them. I'm telling you. It would be jail now.

DB: The two boys (Keith Barr and Eamonn Heery) colliding into Colm O'Rourke. That was the hardest ...

JS: But that wasn't dirty.

DB: No it was totally acceptable, wasn't it.

BF: The Coyle and Lyons challenges were dirty, I don't mind saying it. They were horrendous.

DB: Coyler's was dirty. That was a straight elbow. He lifted him.

BF: Paul Curran's head nearly came off his shoulders.

TC: It was accepted by both teams. Rather than give out about it afterwards, you played it down, just in case you looked like a big baby. Now it's TV it's played five or six times. Twenty years ago it would be shown on TV as tough tackling and this is the way it was. Did they like it?

The crowd liked it, the people liked it, the GAA liked it as well. It wasn't bad publicity for the GAA, it was good at the time.

CK: The change in approach has been marked since then?

TC: Because we are gone super clean, and mothers don't want their kids involved, and it looks bad, we're gone PC.

JS: It wasn't so much that the rules were changed, it was the attitude to the way they were refereed.

TC: And the media have played a big part in it too.

CK: That Dublin team didn't grow particularly close, did it?

TC: When you go on and win two All-Irelands it is better than winning nothing in the space of seven years. But I suppose, now, we get on better than we did.

JS: There were groups, cliques. They are in every team.

BF: I think it's great that a Meath man was responsible -- and I take great pleasure in saying it -- for getting Keith Barr and Tommy Carr getting on well again after a few difficult years!

DB: We didn't mix at all. Sure the boys hardly talked to the younger lads.

CK: Is there one personal outstanding memory from the series of games?

BF: Tommy Carr's speech for me. I've said it before, not because I've got to know him well. And he's a lot nicer than I thought he was then.

JS: It was my first game, my first championship game and it was a huge moment for me. In some ways, the relief coming off the pitch after the first three games. It was palpable. There was the joy that you were still going.

BF: The trip to Scotland between the third and fourth games and his (Beggy's) performance on the Friday night when we were allowed have a good few jars. We actually got drunk. Boylan let us.

DB: What about the game we played the next day?

BF: Savage, filthy. The dirtiest game we ever played in our lives. That trip was brilliant for us.

JS: It was a good stroke, a gamble to get away because it actually began to get monotonous between the games. But what if ye went to Scotland and we had won by the last game by a point?

TC: Scotland was a f***-up then.

JS: What was Sean Boylan bringing a team to Scotland in the middle of a championship?

CK: Do you envy players now. The conditions they play in, better welfare, more playing opportunities?

TC: I'd be pretty satisfied with what we did. As a group we played longer at inter-county football than they are now. I gave 12 years at inter-county football. They are not playing 12 years now, the majority of them.

DB: How many footballers do you meet now that will tell you they are really enjoying it. I don't know, are they really enjoying it now?

BF: I'd love to be playing now. As a forward.

TC: It would be better for the likes of Bernard. You look at the likes of the 'Gooch' and the protection he gets now. And let there be absolutely no doubt he is one class act. Imagine coming from that era to this era now, where you get a ball and you know you're not going to get a belt in the kidneys or the back of the head as you're going for the ball.

JS: My concern is the level of honesty among players in terms of competing for balls. A fella gets touched he's encouraged to take a dive and it has permeated down from other sports, particularly soccer.

CK: Do you think a player could get away with smoking 30 cigarettes a day and drinking a couple of pints the night before a match, David!

DB: I think with the right manager you can get away with anything!

TC: If you had the wrong manager you would get away with anything!

DB: You'd be surprised how many current Irish rugby internationals like a cigarette or have done in the recent past. The best of them included!

BF: Boylan was incredible in the four games. It's only when you finish afterwards. And you didn't really appreciate at the time, anything he could do work-wise, fellas under pressure.

DB: A very significant thing for us was that the referee went down with cramp, four or five Dublin players went down with cramp. Not one Meath player suffered from cramp. In fact, he would say that no one ever suffered from cramp in his 22 years.

CK: Would Dublin have won it if they were managed by Sean Boylan?

BF: Answer this honestly Tommy, please answer this honestly.

TC: Paddy was very good with fellas, nice manner, a lot of charisma. Were we as streetwise on the sideline as Sean Boylan, probably not. But take out the video of tight All-Ireland finals over the last 10 years, forget the manager and the substitutions that he made, and look at the basic errors that players made. That's it at the end of the day. You take responsibility on the pitch for what you do. I'm not saying they don't take responsibility nowadays, they do. But I remember Paddy Cullen or Pat O'Neill saying to me 'Tommy, you got a roasting on Sunday off Tommy Dowd. If that happens again ... ' That was it, you do the job or join us on the sideline. None of this 'what do you think, do you think you should step inside him and ...

DB: And we'll give you a little development plan to improve on that! I remember at half-time Sean would say to you 'you have five minutes'. If you said that now, the player would probably bring you up on a tribunal. 'You are destroying my future mental capacity. How could you say that to me and me on the pitch.'

TC: 'How do you expect me to play when I have only five minutes. That's so demotivating.'

CK: Pat Gilroy was a colleague in the years after that. Are you surprised he has become manager of Dublin?

JS: He was on the fringe. He wasn't a guy that stood up in the middle of a team meeting. He wasn't in that position. But that's just the circumstances. Lots of guys have come from similar positions to be great managers.

CK: Will Dublin win an All-Ireland in the next year or two?

JS: I think they have the capacity to win it.

TC: Dublin need something to happen for them in one of these games that they are losing when they are winning by seven or eight points. But I'd have a worry.

BF: I think Meath have punched well above their weight. I think they've given very reasonable value for money. An All-Ireland semi-final and a Leinster final with an average back line and midfield, good forwards.

But I'd like to clear one thing up. Paul Grimley (Meath assistant coach) made an outrageous comment this week accusing past players of begrudgery. That was completely misinformed. He is totally and utterly wrong. It's only a couple of fellas he's talking about, maybe myself, O'Rourke, Liam Hayes. Not one of us would begrudge these Meath players anything. I'd stand by my original comments about Graham Geraghty's return. It wasn't the right move. But that wouldn't stop me wanting the team to win on Sunday.

TC: Management is about making hard calls. Big decisions have to be made. That's a big decision with Graham. We'll only see the effect of it on Sunday. But this Dublin team have provided more entertainment over the last five years. Meath have been so inconsistent, going to an All-Ireland semi-final and being effectively beaten by Louth the next year. It's bad. That wouldn't happen Dublin.

CK: Has rugby got Gaelic games in the same grip now that that maybe soccer had 20 years ago.

TC: It's different. I don't think it has the grassroots by the throat. I don't think you'll see the parishes going off playing rugby. The difficulty for rugby now is that they are going to be victims of their own success. It's going to be Munster and Leinster. That's going to be Irish rugby and that's what the GAA is up against now.

DB: Everyone in Croke Park on Sunday will have played Gaelic football, hurling, camogie or ladies football or been on a committee at some stage. But in the Aviva Stadium 80pc of them have had no such involvement.

TC: It's two teams, it's not a grassroots thing.

DB: They know about it through business or got to follow it through Sky. It's like a concert. People who go to a concert don't necessarily know how to play a guitar. Where as in Gaelic football, they're all musicians.

JS: Rugby is now being hyped to an incredible level. If you were a person who hadn't played the game you went to club match and sat in the stand you wouldn't go to too many more. You'd be gone."

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