Old Rivalry Has History Of Twist In The Tale

IN Spain they have El Classico. In Scotland they call it “the Old Firm”. In cricket, they play for The Ashes.

In Leinster, when rivals Dublin and Meath meet, it’s usually a case of “expect the unexpected.”

Predictions based on critical analysis are often unreliable. Like fireworks soaked in petrol, the levels of raw passion that are brought to this local showdown ensures that the outcome is always uncertain.

As Jim Gavin noted recently, “When Dublin and Meath meet, current form is irrelevant. It’s on the day itself. That’s the beauty of Meath and Dublin in Leinster finals.”

On paper, you might think Meath might be best advised to take the afternoon off on Sunday and go fishing.

Dublin, All Ireland champions, hold back-to-back National League titles and can account for eight of the last nine Leinster titles.

With impressive strength in depth in their squad, they are a formidable footballing juggernaut.

Meath, on the other hand, scrabbling for crumbs from the rich man’s table, struggled to land a Leinster title four years ago in controversial circumstances.

After decades of managerial stability under Sean Boylan, they’ve paraded a cast of different managers in recent years without ever threatening to emulate the achievements of their illustrious past.

No longer a major force in football, Meath cling to memories of the county’s golden years with the desperation of drowning men. When they see the blue cliff face that’s Hill 16 with the Dubs in their pomp, they struggle all the more. One more kick. One last grasp. One final shot for salvation.

In feels like it’s always been this way. And traditionally it cuts both ways. Over the years, whether it be Dublin or Meath, the underdog often shows its teeth.

In 2012, when the sides met, Dublin won by a goal. Last year there were two goals and a point in it. Few would expect things to be any different on the third successive year the neighbours have met in the provincial final.

Considering their injury list, Meath have been punching above their weight. A final against the in-form champions represents making a quantum leap to another level.

But past encounters tell us the possibility of a major shock is never off the menu.

The start of what GAA historians term the modern era of Meath and Dublin rivalry dates back to 1986. Meath had spent more than a decade in the doldrums and under manager Sean Boylan they’d come up short in three Leinster campaigns.

Boylan’s job looked shaky as Meath met Dublin. It was a major surprise when the Royals edged it by a point.

“Meath could never beat Dublin,” recalled Colm O’Rourke. “So it was a huge result for us. I celebrated that win more than any other ever after for Meath.”

From that base, Meath grew to become one of the dominant forces in the game over the next five years.

They went on to win three Leinster titles in a row and seemed a shoe-in for a fourth but Dublin had other ideas. Goals from Ciaran Duff and Vinny Murphy set Dublin on the way to victory. It stunned the Royal, where a few years earlier, the mantra of change had been, “Stop Dublin scoring goals.”

In those days, defeat meant you were out of the Championship completely. Books, documentaries and ballads have been compiled about the famous 4-in-a-row matches, two with extra time, that were needed to decide the first round of the Leinster championship. The combined impact on the emotions of these remarkable tussles would rank them as the football equivalent of the Thrilla in Manilla.

At times, these two Leinster heavyweights seemed out on their feet as the advantage ebbed and flowed.

But in the end, when Meath made a spectacular late comeback and nicked it, their win came as a shock. As much to their own supporters as those in blue.

Dublin dominated Leinster for the next four years. They’d beaten Kildare twice and then Meath twice in Leinster finals and were expecting to make it five in a row in ’96. This was the era of Jason Sherlock and Dublin was giving it the big “Boom Boom.”

All Ireland champions, they’d beaten Westmeath and Louth on their way to another Leinster final.

Meath arrived with a bunch of fresh-faced young lads who looked more like Boy Scouts that senior inter-county footballers.

“Nobody had given us a chance before the Dublin game,” says Graham Geraghty. “But our new lads had no inhibitions. We were delighted to prove everyone wrong.” Another shock.

And so the see-saw went up and down. Dublin. Meath. Meath Dublin. Other counties were occasionally allowed a look in. But Leinster seemed to be the private sparring ground of the Dubs and the Royals.

Dublin have dominated the provincial landscape for the last decade. Their only blip came in 2010 when they met Meath in the semi-final.

With Eamonn O’Brien in charge, the Royal were regarded as a team in development. The county hadn’t won a Leinster title since 2001 so Dublin, under Pat Gilroy, were favourites.

Perhaps the Meathmen decided to adopt a Dublin approach. Perhaps they got lucky.

Either way, they rattled in five goals, which gave them the edge on the day.

They also prevented Dublin scoring any. You couldn’t have got a bigger shock at Ardnacrusha.

Normal service has since been resumed with Dublin imposing themselves on Meath on the last two occasions.

But as we’ve seen, these two teams are the original shock jocks. And with Mick O’Dowd once again shaking things up in Meath, Dublin are taking nothing for granted.

This encounter will test the mettle. No one will want to give an inch. No one will be intimidated.

As Meath scoring ace Stephen Bray explained last season, “We’re well used to playing Dublin at underage level and in club fixtures. We’ve respect for Dublin but we definitely don’t fear them.”(The Herald)

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