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