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Colm O'Rourke: 'Former giants in need of resurrection and transformation'

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Galway manager Padraic Joyce during the Allianz Football League Division 1 Round 2 defeat to Kerry at Austin Stack Park in Tralee on Saturday night. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Galway manager Padraic Joyce during the Allianz Football League Division 1 Round 2 defeat to Kerry at Austin Stack Park in Tralee on Saturday night. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Galway manager Padraic Joyce during the Allianz Football League Division 1 Round 2 defeat to Kerry at Austin Stack Park in Tralee on Saturday night. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

In his book, A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens asserts his belief in the possibility of resurrection and transformation in society. Perhaps there is a modern novel in a tale of two counties, Galway and Meath, and their recent travails in football.

Galway beat Monaghan last Sunday with a late point.

There was not exactly a mass pitch invasion, but people drifted on to congratulate the players and maybe more so, new manager Pádraic Joyce. Those same supporters believe in a transformation of their team under Joyce, especially towards a different style of play.

The Galway public never warmed to the cautious style under Kevin Walsh, even though he could justifiably argue that the team were quite successful under him.

But supporters did not feel either resurrection or transformation. Now the task falls to Joyce and the ordinary supporter feels there could be a return to glory days while playing a brand of swashbuckling football.

If it is not delivered within a few years Joyce will feel the cold wind of rejection.

Yet teams like the Galway one of Joyce's era do not come around too often. Walsh was a mainstay of that side but there was never a sense under his guidance that the dogs were ever let off the leash.

It was a needs must policy in his view and they certainly never had the players like he togged out with. Apart from Joyce himself, who scored and scored and then scored again, there was Ja Fallon, who was a football artist.

He could have kicked points in the Sistine Chapel without anyone noticing his presence. There was Michael Donnellan, who was as good as and probably a better wing forward as ever played before or since.

No defender in either Ireland or Australia could handle him. There was Seán Óg De Paor and Tomás Mannion and John Divilly and many more. It was a quite brilliant team.

The tale of these two counties colliding was set in 2001. Meath were favourites in an All-Ireland final but were trounced by Galway. Meath have never recovered.

That was a great Meath team too - McDermott, Giles, Fay, Geraghty, Murphy, Kelly, O'Reilly and the rest. Just over 20 years ago, when Meath were winning All-Irelands, they had the three or four best individual players in the country. After 2001 things changed. Someone switched off the tap.

This is Meath's longest barren spell since the 1930s. There hasn't been an All-Ireland title for 20 years and Dublin are casting a long, dark shadow over Meath, Leinster and all the rest.

Meath supporters need to start believing again in the possibility of resurrection and transformation.

Being back in the first division for the first time in 15 years gives hope of a revival but teams that have progressed in the championship have all needed a few years in the top-flight to hone their game to the higher level. Division 1 and 2 are night and day.

It is not easy being a Meath player at the moment. They certainly do not feel the love. If anything it is indifference. Long gone are the big crowds for all sorts of matches.

When we were going well away games often felt like home matches. The supporters felt a bond with the team and in a strange way we felt a responsibility to people in a different era, one where money was very scarce and the Meath team was a lift from tough times.

I saw the other side too. One like the Meath players are experiencing now. A time when we had not much support and we were way off the pace for over a decade.

When Meath were going through that bleak spell in the late 1970s and early '80s I used to really hate some of the great players of the past being wheeled out to tell us what to do.

It was being done with the best of intentions but when another All-Ireland winner would appear, my reaction would be, 'ah jaysus, not more of this'.

I'm sure the current players feel similarly.

When Seán Boylan came along his mantra was that it was up to every team and every generation of players to make their own tradition.

It is the same now. Meath have many advantages over a lot of counties, a big population, serious interest, a great sponsor and big numbers playing at all levels. I see it in school in St Pat's, Navan.

There is no shortage of interest, the commitment is as good as ever and more time and teachers are involved in promotion. Yet the tap has been turned off there as well.

When Meath were doing well it was a rising tide that lifted all boats, especially at underage. Now it is hard to find young lads even wearing Meath jerseys.

So Meath sit in the doldrums, though I suspect things are going to get better over the next few years on all fronts. It is badly needed too.

There is no Meath supporter under 30 with good memories of Meath-Dublin games.

Maybe Galway have turned the corner in the tale of two counties but like Dickens, Meath badly need resurrection and transformation. And quickly too.

Even the Dubs would welcome the challenge.

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