Saturday, July 19, 2014

Leinster Final Day Memories

This Sunday Dublin and Meath play for the Leinster title.  I recall the days when I lived at home, just up the road from Croke Park, and myself and a large group of friends would head to Croker and the Hill.  Decked out in the Arnotts shirts.  Stop at Meagher's in Fairview for a quick two (or three) before making our way down Clonliffe Road and to the Hill.  It always seemed to by sunny, at least that is what my memory tells me.  The anticipation would build as you got closer to the Hill, and crowd became denser.  Nearly all Navy and Sky Blue in that vicinity, though there would be a green and gold shirted soul or two around, probably lost their way to the Hogan Stand.  The adrenalin would start to flow and the stomach would being to knot as the anticipation built up.  Wed make our way to the usual spot on the Hill, everyone had their usual spots.  Ours was just at the curve in the terrace, about two thirds the way down.  This was back in the 1980s and 1990s when Dublin and Meath would battle for the title on an almost annual basis.  It was either going to be the best day of the summer, or the worst, there would be no in between.  There was no backdoor system; the loser was out. 

We had to beat Meath.  Inside Croker, once the crowd had filled up, the atmosphere was electric, there was no other way to describe it.  If Meath were in the minor final, and Dublin were not, the opponent always got the Hill's support.  Wexford, Offaly, Kildare, it didn't matter.  The enemy of my enemy is my friend.  The Hogan Stand was an oasis of culchiedom in the heart of Dublin City.  Like West Berlin for them, like an unwelcome guest forced upon us was our viewpoint.  Usually there was a decent amount of Dublin support in the Cusack, but the Hogan was a different matter.  Hardly a blue shirt, hat, or flag to be seen.  How could anyone shout for Meath we would think, even if you were from there.  The Hogan faced the Hill, always took a split second for the cheer following a score to reach the Hill, you always waited for it and you hated it.  It sounded like a jeer, it had an edge to it.  When the Dubs scored, I'm sure it was the same for them as sound waves traveled across the field towards the Hogan.  The ball goes over the bar, a second of silence, then the sound.  The score was the knife in the gut, the sound was the twist.

We had our heroes, the half back line had a nice ring to it, Carr, Barr, Heery.  I loved seeing Eamon Heery lining out at left half back.  He took no shit from them, and you could tell before the ball was thrown in that he was not going to.  We also had Deegan (with the socks pulled up), Curran, Guiden, Vinny, Jack Sheedy, and Charlie.  They were our guys.  The prime villain was Mick Lyons.  If Meath were playing away from the Hill to start the game, and Lyons was jogging to take his full back position, the chant went up instinctively.  "Mick Lyons, he's a wanker, he's a wanker, etc."  I'd say he relished it when I think back.  So often a high ball would drop into the box and amid a knot of hands and shirts, Lyons would come away to clear the ball.  Others we loved to hate were Robbie O'Malley, Colm Coyle (the absolute worst), David Beggy, Kevin Foley, Colm O'Rourke, and Tommy Dowd.  One name that generated more concern rather than anything else was Dr. Gerry McEntee.  In a tight game with 15 or 20 minutes to go, the switch would be made, McEntee was on, and it was never usually good, for us anyway.  Was it because he was a doctor and probably knew plenty about the human body that the rest of us were unaware of?  I don't know.  But when he came on, it was a huge concern, and Meath seemed to usually win.

The beauty of these games was that there was never a favourite.  The game could go either way.  Take 1991, which was actually a first round tie, it took 4 games to separate the teams.  Time has not eased the pain of the that Kevin Foley goal.  It never will. 

One other reason we gave ourselves to dislike Meath was the fact that they never stuck around after the game.  Should the Dubs have lost a game, there was a certain soothing element to knowing that you can head for a pint or two around Croker after the game, congratulate the opposing supporters and discuss the match objectively with them.  Meath never even gave us that.  Head off back to Meath straight after the game, gloating with their green and yellow flags, the woolen headband dangling from the rearview mirror, and leave us to wallow in our misery. 

The proximity and overlap was probably what made it such an intense occasion.  Some of the Dublin players actually lived in Meath.  Dr. Gerry McEntee managed Dublin minors.  I recall my own club playing a friendly against Summerhill, the club of Mick Lyons and his brothers.  I togged out at corner forward that day, and who was standing to my left, but the man himself.  For a young lad who had only ever abused him from the safety of Hill 16, it was quite the occasion.  I worked for many years in Boston with a brother of Paddy Hands O'Brien, full back on team of the century, and played with Paddy's son Tony at home.

After coming to Boston I played with St. Columbkilles.  We had a lad by the name of Mick O'Dowd join us for a couple of seasons, he did a great impression of Michael O'Muircheartaigh.  He was a fine footballer, and now manages the Meath team.  The last 10 years or so have been kinder to Dublin in the Leinster final stakes, though with Mick at the helm, Meath are catching up.  I'll be shouting for the boys in blue of course, but I wish Mick all the best in his managerial career.  Those Meath folk are not all that bad you know.

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