Saturday 16 December 2017

The game has completely changed, and so have Meath - Coyle

Colm Coyle (centre) celebrating the 1988 All-Ireland final replay victory over Cork with PJ Gillic and David Beggy (right). Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Coyle (centre) celebrating the 1988 All-Ireland final replay victory over Cork with PJ Gillic and David Beggy (right). Photo: Sportsfile

Michael Verney

It's 20 years since Trevor Giles had his last-minute penalty stopped by Kildare goalkeeper Christy Byrne as reigning All-Ireland champions Meath trailed by three points with time almost up in an epic Leinster SFC semi-final replay.

The sequence of events immediately after illustrated just how difficult Sean Boylan's men were to finish off. Lilywhites defender Davy Dalton, who later moved to Meath - his son Davy played senior for the Royals - rushed his clearance with team-mates available outside him.

It ended up in the Hogan Stand and there was still time for Ollie Murphy to float a sideline ball across the square and as Dalton, who won an All-Star that year, fumbled the delivery, Giles was there to palm the ball to the net.

Two enthralling periods of extra-time followed, with the Royals down by six at the break before Jody Devine hit four points off the bench to force a second replay, where Meath eventually ground down Mick O'Dwyer's young Kildare side.

Looking back on the trilogy via YouTube earlier this week, Colm Coyle, a three-time All-Ireland winner with Meath, highlighted the leaders within their squad and the initiative shown to get them out of so many sticky situations over the years.

"Our whole philosophy was that the game was 75 minutes. It doesn't matter whether you bang in the scores in the first two or the last two minutes. No matter how you're playing, you hang in there and your chances will come," Coyle says.

"We needed a goal and what you do is just abandon your positions at the back and just go all-out attack and go for it, and not be afraid to. Sometimes you'd fail doing it but most of the time we succeeded."

The former Royal senior manager - and current minor boss - believes such drama is far less likely to unfold in the modern game, however, with many teams regimentally sticking to a defensive set-up, even when chasing a deficit.

"A lot of time now teams are caught up in the strait-jacket of defensive systems and positional play and you can't show a little bit of initiative. It was about leaders under Sean, lads leading by example," the Seneschalstown clubman says.

"I remember numerous times when we were chasing games and the corner-back or the full-back was up around the square and you're thinking 'what the hell are you doing here?' but straight away we're all-out attacking.

"It's unnerving for the opposition. Teams had this 'oh we're three or four points up against Meath, what are we going to do to see this out?' attitude. That was a psychological thing more to do with their anxiety than anything we were going to do.

"Now it's going the opposite way, but it'll turn again hopefully."

He likes what he sees of the current crop under Andy McEntee, assisted by his brother Gerry and, while many expected their aggressive playing style to rub on their managerial approach, Coyle feels the game has radically changed in that department.

"A lot of the time in our day it was man on man and one on one, whereas now with different strategies, you're either all-out defence or all-out attack. There were teething problems with the defensive set-up initially," Coyle says.

"Kildare got big scores against us in the League. Meath had a lot of bodies back but what tends to happen is you have a lot of lads back in position but no-one actually doing any defending, and that was the early stages of a new defensive strategy.

"That's the way the game has gone: if I'm a defender, I have two team-mates in close proximity, so I don't have to be taking the heads off lads as I had to do back in the day.

"That hardness that people talk about, you just don't get away with it any more."

With captain Graham Reilly on fire in attack, the Royals put 27 points past Louth, and Coyle feels they have the tools to book their Leinster final place.

"Kildare have to be favourites, they impressed in the League but that was February and it's a whole different ball game in June," he says. "The Meath lads are very fit and there's something about them, they're coming.

"Kildare sometimes have the reputation of wilting when the pressure comes on so, if Meath can get in their faces, it'll either make or break that Kildare team."

Irish Independent

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