Republican News · Thursday 8 June 1999

[An Phoblacht]

Meath fall in weekend of upsets

It's good to see that my precocious powers of predictions remain undimmed. I've said all year that Meath were unbackable to at least win the Leinster Championship, so of course they went crashing out of the competition at the first hurdle. Their comprehensive defeat at the hands of Offaly flew in the face of all conventional wisdom and so-called expert opinions. Meath, the reigning champions, had a quietly successful league campaign under their belts and expected to be hitting form right on cue. They had some selection problems leading up to Sunday's clash, but these were not considered to be significant enough to envisage any major problems. Despite their injury list, you could point at their strength in depth and reassure yourself that the were still a sound bet to progress to the next round.

But we have allowed myths to develop around Meath's ability to win in tight situations and believed our own propaganda. Offaly, for their part, hadn't read the script and tore into the Royals from the throw-in. Their hunger and hard work was more in keeping with the type of performance we have usually come to expect from Sean Boylan's men. It has been said that imitation is the highest form of flattery, and the Faithful County had a limpet-like full-back line, two hard working midfielders, half-backs and half forwards hurling themselves at every breaking ball and gifted, natural forwards taking vital scores. This has been the formula for teams from the Royal County for the past 18 successful years. It is not based on thuggery or intimidation; it is, however, based on mental and physical toughness, honesty, graft, ability and teamwork. To rejoice in their defeat would be churlish, to admit that the championship is not the same without them would be closer to the truth.

Sunday also saw the clash of Limerick and Cork in the Munster hurling championship, where Cork prevailed with an impressive performance. Limerick are a young team whose current developmental life cycle has been compared with that of the Cork team three years ago. They will surely be back stronger next year. Cork now await the winners of next week's huge clash between Clare and Tipperary.

In Ulster, the big football match was the meeting of Tyrone and Armagh. Neither team were clear favourites facing into the game. There was some comment surrounding Armagh's Crossmaglen contingent and the amount of football they have already played this year, but talk of tiredness was set to nought as Armagh successfully defended their Ulster title.

With Monday a bank holiday in the 26-Counties, I took to the road and headed for O'Connor Park in Tullamore, where the hurlers of Dublin and Laois and the footballers of Westmeath and again Laois were fixed to settle their differences. In football, Laois were marginal favourites over an improving Westmeath team. But it was a weekend of upsets and the Westmeath footballers proved convincing winners. Their captain, Martin Flanagan, killed Laois off with a stunning solo goal that must already be a contender for goal of the season.

In the earlier game, the Laoismen were again fancied to progress to meet Kilkenny's hurlers. Dublin, however, turned the tables and the underdogs again prevailed. This was a great win for the Dubs, who have been the poor relations in the Capital compared to the at times overhyped footballers. They now face the daunting prospect of Kilkenny, but this will be their fifth championship game this year and adds up to a much better return for their hard work and dedication than the one game of previous years.

You would have to say Dublin don't have a prayer, but that would be to miss the whole point of the round robin exercise. The system gives the qualifying team plenty of summer hurling and puts them in a stronger position to challenge the established order in the province. If it continues, then some day one of the qualifying teams will catch one of the big guns cold. When Dublin's hurlers take the field against Kilkenny, they will have nothing to lose. They have already played championship hurling this year and can be more settled than if this was their only game of the year. Kilkenny, for their part, are on a hiding to nothing.

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