Monday, July 02, 2012

You'll Never Beat the Royals

Wouldn’t it be perfect if the Meath revival turns out to have been inspired by the handshake between Martin McGuinness, Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, and Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain? It would be the grace note on an excellent GAA weekend if the boys of Nobber turn out to have gotten the hump over the fawning coverage given to a foreign monarch and decided to remind the nation that Ireland has her Royals too.

In terms of physiognomy, the royals of Meath prefer the bucket jaw to the chinless wonder that is so distinctive of the British upper classes, but other than that the blue bloods are quite similar. The belief that they are born to rule sees both entities survive into a 21st Century where, really, they should have been put out to pasture many years ago.

Modern GAA thinking tells us that Meath never should have been let near Kildare yesterday in the first place. Kildare were promoted to Division 1 this year, while Meath sank to Division 3. Kildare thumped Offaly last time out, while Meath were taken to a replay by Carlow. The modern form book tells us this is the very definition of a mismatch, and nobody will gain anything when Kildare inevitably murder helpless, hapless Meath.

Meath, bless them, couldn’t give a chew of tobacco for the form book. Meath only know one way to play. Meath catch it and they kick it. When Meath’s players are good enough they win, and when they’re not they lose. There is nothing esoteric about Meath. They are or they ain’t.

Of course, Kildare played their part in the Meath victory. Kildare did not deliver on the day, and the reason why is something that will concern the great GAA people of Kildare greatly in the two weeks they have left to put their season back on track. There was certainly a marked difference between Meath’s potency in front of goal and Kildare’s.

It is one of the great coincidences of modern times that Seánie Johnson should be overcome with a desire to play for Kildare at the exact moment when a player like Johnson is precisely what could make the difference for Kildare’s hopes of a first All-Ireland since 1928. Johnson gets a lot of grief for a private citizen, and it’s hard not to wonder if he’s a pawn in a bigger game. Whoever the behind-the-scenes grandmaster is should have a long, hard look at himself.

But that, of course, is a debate for another day. Yesterday was Meath’s day. Dublin will be favourites against them in the final of course, and will probably win it. But yesterday was one of those days when the stars aligned and Meath enjoyed one of their great days of the post-Boylan era.

Meath have shown intermittent signs of life before. They shocked Mayo in 2009 but couldn't keep her lit against Kerry, who extracted revenge for 2001 in the semi-final. Meath’s luster dulled further the following year when they were too chicken to offer Louth a replay after the controversial end to the Leinster Final. There are the ongoing Borgia-style politics that go on in their managerial appointments. These are all issues that have to be dealt with and it would be naïve to ignore them.

But for the seventy minutes in Croke Park, Meath shook off their recent humiliations and restored the ermine, if only for a while. Their inside men were outstanding, their midfield dominant and their defenders brave as Lyons.

Dara Ó Cinnéide wrote some years ago that Meath is a petri dish for the GAA in the 21st Century. The country is changing from rural to urban. The rate of change is different in different counties, but the change itself is as inevitable as income tax.  Meath is significant because it’s in Meath that the rate of change is fastest, and where the recent winning tradition is strongest. On yesterday’s evidence, there’s hope for the GAA to survive and thrive in the transition. It’s great to see.