Thursday 18 July 2019

'Everyone is writing Meath off, but they're not playing' - Meath legend Martin O'Connell nostalgic ahead of final

If the likes of Ciarán Kilkenny are allowed to settle, it will be another lopsided Leinster final victory for Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile
If the likes of Ciarán Kilkenny are allowed to settle, it will be another lopsided Leinster final victory for Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Martin O'Connell's Meath generation wonder what it would be like to play the present-day Dublin team, who are five or six wins away from an achievement which, statistically, would make them the best of all time.

The game has undergone massive change since the Royals of O'Connell's era beat Dublin more often than they lost, so comparisons are difficult.

However, if the Meath teams of the 1980s/'90s were acclimatised to the modern trends and tactics, or if the current Dublin team were retrofitted with past cultures, it's fair to assume that games between them would be very interesting. Dublin's forwards wouldn't dance around a Meath defence where Lyons, O'Malley and O'Connell were chief sentries; midfield would find Hayes/McEntee, and McDermott later on, were experts at setting the agenda, rather than reacting to it, while the full-back line would have headaches trying to figure out O'Rourke, Stafford and Flynn.

"We'd like a go at it alright," said O'Connell. It's a nice nostalgic thought for Meath supporters ahead of a Leinster final where many of them fear the worst for their side.

Dublin have won the last five Leinster finals by an average of over 14 points and followed up with All-Ireland successes in the last four years.

It's complete domination, leaving rivals, especially in Leinster, in the tightest of psychological grips. That has now become as much of an issue for opponents as Dublin's technical and tactical strengths. Even when teams are going well, they appear to lack confidence. It's as if they start glancing over their shoulders checking for an approaching storm, which Dublin are happy to whip up.

It's a psychological difficulty, which O'Connell believes can be overcome.

"Everyone knows how good Dublin are, but you have to believe in yourself too. Everyone is writing Meath off, but they're not playing. The Meath lads are, and they need to stay positive, ignore what's being said and trust themselves and what they're doing," he said.

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It's three years since Meath last played Dublin in the Championship, losing a Leinster semi-final by 10 points after trailing by two at half-time.

It was typical of what has happened so often since then, with teams putting in decent first-half performances only to be demolished after the restart.

It could happen again tomorrow unless, of course, it's the day when the gap between Dublin and the rest of Leinster begins to close. It has to happen sometime.

O'Connell pointed out that there have been quite a few times when opposition had chances to score more against Dublin in the early stages, but failed to take them. It's only when that happens that it will be really put up to Jim Gavin's men.

Galway converted only one of three excellent goal chances in the first 15 minutes in last year's semi-final and Tyrone should have been more than four points ahead after a period of early dominance in the final.

Can Meath (a) create the openings and (b) take them? If they do they have a good chance of running Dublin to four or five points, but if they don't make an early impression and allow Fenton, McCaffrey, Kilkenny and Co to establish a familiar pattern, then it will be another lopsided Leinster final.

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