Ciarán Priestly is a regular contributor to the Dublin fanzine 'Blue and Navy'
Sporting rivalries are a strangely co-dependent thing. All but the most committed Celtic supporters have been slightly confused by their unrelenting celebration at the demise of the blue half of the ‘old firm’, with ever doubtful return. But that is the nature of that rivalry – blind ignorance and hatred; to the death.
When Manchester United play Liverpool, the respective Murphys and Ryans assemble to spout vitriol at opposing Seans and Liams. Underlying the intense rivalry is a rarely acknowledged reality that, in comparison to the rest of their country, Mancs and Scousers have quite a lot in common with one another. They are similar peoples in at least one half of their heritage. When industrial revolution attracted the Irish multitudes to newly urbanised centres in north-west England, a chance conversation would have proved sufficient in deciding in which city to settle.
G.A.A. rivalries are a much more understated thing. Yet, there are few prouder or more challenging roles than that of county representative to opposing in-laws. A delicate balance of pride and humility is required. The localised, inter-familial nature of G.A.A. membership is a reflection of Irish society and a secularisation of more traditional communal beliefs. This set of core values ensures that Socialist and Capitalist alike fight for the parish on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. And may, always, the better team win.
Kildare are never half as good as they think they are. The reign of a genuine ‘up and coming’ coach and likely future All-Ireland winning manager Kieran McGeeney has done nothing to dampen expectations. Nonetheless, McGeeney’s Kildare are still Kildare and flatter to deceive. The ferocity of performance that Meath brought to the table against Kildare indicate how coveted a prize the second team in Leinster can be. The right to challenge a reigning All-Ireland Championship Dublin side is a scalp too prized to be ignored.
There is comfort in the consistency of Irish sporting rivalries. Much like international soccer, where a genuine pride in the jersey appears to supersede financial incentive on a relative scale, county G.A.A. sides carry the full weight of history into their campaigns. Usually, they conform to a few helpful adjectives; spirited, self-imploding, difficult to beat. As a Dublin supporter who cut his teeth in the early nineties, few occasions are more revered or significant as meeting Meath in the Leinster final.
The Meath teams of the nineties were the consummate childhood sporting rivals; Evenly-matched, familiar to a man and capable of moments of absolute butchery. The team that famously “got its retaliation in first” was everything a Meath team is supposed to be. They were sublime footballers who fought for the very ground they stood on, as if the winning of a football match was an insignificant thing. It is difficult to imagine Mick Lyons sipping champagne in the Palace nightclub in Navan win, lose or draw.
Dublin are threatening to return to the aggressive, clinical confidence that was a prominent feature of ‘Heffo’s Army’ (if TG4 reruns are to be believed) and if either county are to be successful they need that strong Leinster rivalry to be a permanent fixture. Let Kildare worry about themselves. Next to a Dublin win, the best outcome for the Leinster final is a Meath performance that is controlled and infuriating.
It is a fleeting, reoccurring thought that when my father brought me to those epic battles of the early nineties, my future wife was somewhere in attendance amongst the green and yellow swarm. The world changes, people depart and we all just get on with it. At least when Dublin play Meath in the Leinster Final it makes a little more sense.
Dublin footballer Alan Brogan with former Meath footballer, and current Meath selector, Graham Geraghty after a press conference ahead their side's Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Final on Sunday. Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE