Alan Brogan: There is a touch of 'madness' to the Meath management and Kildare should beware
You wouldn’t go so far as to say Meath were an irrelevance to Dublin in the latter half of my inter-county career, but we didn’t spend any more time or invest any greater emotion into beating them in the past few years as we did any other Leinster team.
That, given the very prominent part of the Dublin psyche they used to occupy, represents a skydive from grace.
Unless you’re from Dublin, or maybe Cork, it’s hard to fully grasp the true meaning of Meath.
We were reared on the teams of Seán Boylan, the fire-breathing sides of the late 1980s and ’90s who broke Dublin hearts and balls in equal portions.
My second Championship match was against Meath in 2002.
They had Trevor Giles, Darren Fay, Graham Geraghty, Ollie Murphy and Mark O’Reilly then, men to be feared.
A team of skill and ferocious physicality.
Beating them was the making of us.
It wasn’t just that we dethroned the Leinster champions and the previous year’s All-Ireland finalists or even that we had beaten the team that had hammered Kerry in the semi-final.
It was that we beat Meath.
That might not seem that big a deal now. But Dublin hadn’t won a Leinster title in seven years.
Beating them was huge for us.
We played them again in 2005, when Fay, Geraghty and Nigel Crawford were still knocking around.
They hadn’t even won a Leinster title since 2001 but they still represented something big to us because they were Meath.
Some of our older lads had lost four times to them between 1996 and 2001 and you could tell they had doubts in their minds about whether we could really shake Meath off.
We won that day by just two points after Mark Vaughan nailed a couple of enormous frees.
Mark being Mark, he didn’t seem to fully appreciate, firstly, how difficult the frees were or, secondly, the significance of it all.
So he banged one over from about 50 metres and then another from nearly 60.
We won and we celebrated like we’d slayed the dragon.
So even then, it was still a living, breathing, seething rivalry.
You could feel it around town in the week leading up to those matches, you could feel it in the stadium beforehand and you could most certainly feel it on the pitch.
Really and truly, after Boylan left and they began to suffer the sort of embarrassing defeats that have pockmarked an almost bizarrely inconsistent last seven or eight years, they shed a lot of their very Meath-ness in the mind’s eye of Dublin players and Dublin supporters.
Whether they’re regaining some of that is a bit soon to say but the early indications of Andy McEntee’s reign are promising.
Let’s be honest, somewhere near the top of Andy McEntee’s list of ‘To Dos’ is beating Dublin.
Saturday is all about Kildare and taking the next obvious and available step and maybe settling a score from that League match between the two in February but where McEntee’s reign will be judged is against Dublin. That’s an issue of fundamental importance for Meath and the starting point for that is convincing the players.
People throw their eyes up to heaven and get sarky on Twitter when pundits talk about hunger or belief, but I could tell from the body language of the Meath teams we played against at the back end of my career that they had no real belief that they could beat us.
I have no doubt about that whatsoever.
I could sense it. I could feel it. And when you have that over the opposition, they’ve no chance.
So that’s issue number one for their new management.
I observed Gerry McEntee at close quarters with St Brigid’s over the years. It’s truly remarkable how much success he squeezed out of the club and the players he worked with.
I know from painful personal experience.In 2011, Bernard and myself were just coming off winning the All-Ireland with Dublin. I had been crowned Footballer of the Year too, succeeding Bernard.
Naturally enough, we fancied ourselves for the Dublin title with Plunkett’s and we were favourites but Brigid’s snuffed us out that day in a gruelling match and it was exactly the sort of win
McEntee’s teams appear to pull off more often than not.
The same with Andy at Ballyboden St Enda’s.
They’re as good a management duo as there is in charge of an inter-county team out there at present.
There’s a touch of ‘madness’ about them. A good sort of madness.
The sort of devoted, obsessive madness that players give a little bit more to because they know that they’re getting more back in return. They can suck a bit more out of players because they inspire players.
And these Meath players must be sick of the mediocrity and frustrations of the past few years.
You hear stuff all the time about Graham Reilly being the only Meath player who would get a game for Dublin or Donal Keogan being the only Meath player who would get a game with Dublin but that’s nonsense.
The reality is, there’s plenty of them good enough to play for Dublin if they get the right sort of support from management.
Graham Reilly is a brilliant footballer.
He kicked seven from play against Louth in the first round of the Championship and seven from play against Clare in the last round of the League.
That has to be some sort of record?
Whether there’s enough of them good enough at present to beat Dublin this year, I’d be sceptical still.
But if they do beat Kildare, they’ll bring the sort of physical edge to the Leinster final Dublin haven’t experienced pre-August in a number of years.
None of which, by the way, is to do down Kildare’s chances on Saturday.
They’re roughly on the same point in their trajectory, possibly even more advanced given they got promoted.
In Niall Kelly, Daniel Flynn and Kevin Feely, they have some serious footballers and are a year further down the tracks in terms of their physical development compared to Meath. However, maybe it’s just my native Dublin wariness about an emerging Meath team, but I suspect they’ll win on Saturday.