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Wed 02-Mar-2011 17:22
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Press Box Lad
One thorny rosebush in Dublin’s football garden
If there was one thorny rosebush in the sky blue football garden in the recent past, it was exposed and dealt with by a very familiar adversary.
Having top quality U-21 teams one year after another is no easy task – especially when a county has won the All Ireland the previous year – but, with seven of Dublin’s successful squad of 2010 eligible again this season they would have been expected to mount a rigorous defence of their titles. Very often in sport though, best laid plans can come unstuck. Furthermore, when it comes to games involving Meath and Dublin, the form book and all manner of forward planning can be sent straight for the furnace.
Expectation cannot have been too high in the Royal County given the calibre of opposition which presented itself and the manner in which those in green and gold have struggled in the grade in recent times. As against that however, the one thing one can always be sure of is that any set of players that goes out in a set of green and gold jerseys will relish nothing more than going out and getting stuck into their oldest foes. Meath are a lot like a wounded lion too, at their most dangerous when they are written off!
Evidence has proven over the years that to stand any chance of defeating a Dublin team, their opponents must go at them right from the first whistle. If you let them out ahead of you and the waters start flowing in their favour, you could very easily find yourself being swept away in a tidal wave very quickly.
Few teams have mastered the art of halting that flow as well as Meath have over the years. And the latest meeting between the two counties was no different. Those who devise the fixture plans here, there and everywhere very seldom come in for praise but it is the view of yours truly that the decision to stage the U-21 competitions on a midweek basis was a very wise one which could deliver rich dividends in many ways.
The point will be made in certain places that it creates something of a headache – and raises the thorny old issue of burnout – where players may be involved with county senior and U-21 sides as well is in the Third Level competitions. But the solution to that viewpoint – and it does carry quite a degree of clout – may come down to a question of priority.
It would be my opinion that the preserving and prosperity of the U-21 competitions should be a far greater priority than the well being of the college competitions. Simply because college football is very much like a conveyor belt system with constant player turnover and individuals passing through. Maintaining the image and reputation of an Alma Mater often seems higher on the wish list than the development of the players therein. Whereas the U-21 competitions still serve as a conveyor belt of a far more important kind – bridging the gap from minor to senior level both on the county and club scene.
One thing that is for certain is that the players still want the grade and are driven to achieve success in it. There is nothing to live up to a Meath-Dublin clash no matter what they meet in and the fact that the latest meeting of the two took place under the Pairc Tailteann floodlights on a late February Wednesday night only added to the already guaranteed electric atmosphere.
Meath did indeed get off to the desired good start, thanks mainly to the attacking excellence of Darragh Smyth – who has endured a torrid few years, both on the injury front and in terms of trying to attain a club transfer – and Kilmainham clubman Michael Newman. The pair did most of the damage as the home side etched out a 0-10 to 0-05 half time lead. Dean Rock, son of former Dublin great Barney, carried the most threat towards the Meath goal.
Rock Junior will have had a large amount of his sides hopes pinned on him but in an ironic twist – aside from the fact that the Ballymun Kickhams player was obviously hampered by an injury – he was extremely well shackled by a player whom his father manages at club level, Ciaran Lenihan of Skryne.
The red headed defender was the best player on view throughout the epic encounter and he had to be at his brilliant best as Dublin came at Meath with an expected onslaught that was characteristic of clashes between the sides at any level. Inspired by replacement Paul Holden, who contributed a very creditable three points, the champions seemed to have accomplished the first defence of their title when scores from defenders Darragh Nelson and Kevin O’Brien left Jim Gavin’s team two points up with time running out.
Scripts mean nothing in matches between these two however. Meath tore up the expected outcome as scores from scorer in chief Newman and the introduced Andrew Tormey dramatically – but almost inevitably – sent the game to extra time.
Having let Dublin slip out of the net of victory once, once sensed there was no way the locals were going to let it happen a second time. In truth, that it was Tormey who played the critical role in taking the tie to an extra twenty minutes was very fitting because in truth it was the contributions and impact of the players manager Liam Harnan introduced that eventually won the night.
Sean Dalton (0-2), Tormey, Shane Gillespie and Willie Carry all sent over vital scores as the kingpins were dethroned on a 0-21 to 0-17 score line. It was a typical coming together of the two, close, dramatic with just a modicum of controversy. Dublin may well feel aggrieved over the striking out of Philip Ryan’s ‘goal’ in the first half of normal time. On the overall balance of the game though, it would have been woefully rough justice on Meath had they lost.
Incidentally, the old saying about lightning never striking twice can be firmly dismissed as hogwash too. Just as with when these two sides met as Minors in 2008, Meath emerged victorious by four points after extra time also. That season, the young Royals went on to defeat Offaly in the Leinster MFC decider. Were they to do the same in the final underage grade it would be most welcome.
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