Stephen Bray nets. Cathal Noonan/INPHO
Royals to rumble

'If they get a mauling it could be very damaging' - Meath legend Bernard Flynn fears Dubs

The last time they met in a Leinster final, Dublin piled 21 points on Meath. Can they close the gap at all?

WHEN THE RESTROSPECTIVES are compiled about Dublin’s transformation from soft underachievers to Leinster playground bullies, the common mistake is that everything changed with the ‘Startled Earwigs’ game.

For sure, the August Bank Holiday of 2009 must have been one of the longest days anyone on Hill 16 ever put in after Colm Cooper struck for an early goal and Kerry just continued to pile on the pain, the margin stretching to 17 points by the finish.

But for the real rock bottom story, you can’t look past the scorching day of 27 June, 2010 and meeting Meath in a Leinster semi-final.

Stephen Cluxton got an early warning with a Stephen Bray piledriver to the net on six minutes.

After the half-time break, Dublin suffered a complete meltdown.

Cian Ward placed a shot in the top bins. Bray got his second, followed by goals from Joe Sheridan and Brian Farrell. 5-9 to 0-13.

A couple of things were remarkable about that day. Dublin had actually won the previous five Leinster titles. But that Meath side had reached All-Ireland semi finals in 2007 and 2009.

While Meath won the final by beating Louth, the good of the day was sucked out by the Joe Sheridan non-goal, the public’s natural sympathies going to a minnow earning a rare shot of glory and having it taken away from them in such controversial circumstances.

Referee Martin Sludden ordered his umpires to signal a goal, and at the finish a number of Louth followers entered the pitch in protest.

Dublin’s dominance of their province resumed again, with final wins over Wexford (2011) and Meath (2012) by just three points. Then it started getting ugly.

In the 11 provincial finals since, the margin of victory has been averaging 14.9 points. The last time Meath played them in the decider was 2020, in front of nobody because of the Covid restrictions. Small mercy for Meath given the 21-point defeat.

a-view-of-the-halftime-score The half-time score of the 2020 Leinster final. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Barely clinging onto their Division 2 status this season, Meath are the aristocrats getting itchy in their old tweed, their dowry whittled away.

Now they stand in limbo; good enough to win the Tailteann Cup last year in Colm O’Rourke’s first year as manager, not good enough to win their province or the All-Ireland.

What exactly constitutes a good Meath season?

“What would be a good season for Meath, and a good season for Colm O’Rourke are probably two different things,” explains his former team mate, Bernard Flynn.

“Colm has referred many times to beating Dublin. Even the other day he alluded to being hammered by them over the last ten years.

“As someone who knows Colm well, he will want to test Dublin. And this is the best time to get them.”

bernard-flynn-and-darragh-maloney Bernard Flynn. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

He’s undoubtedly right. While the rest of the world is expecting a Dublin reaction from their league final defeat to Derry, they will be without Paddy Small through suspension and the result of Brian Fenton’s appeal is yet to be announced.

Elsewhere, they either won’t have Stephen Cluxton, or else a Stephen Cluxton playing his first game of the year. Add to that doubts over James McCarthy, Cormac Costello, Jack McCaffrey and they are clearly some way off full-strength.

“If they get a mauling it could be very damaging,” adds Flynn.

“Since he took on the job, Colm has talked about competing with Dublin, beating them, and that’s what he has set his stall out for. Next Sunday sets the tone for the rest of the season.”

Last year it was curious to see Down and Meath in the Tailteann Cup final. Given their histories, it felt like the most fitting comparison was the well-worn ‘two bald men fighting over a comb.’  But Meath triumphed, the crowds cheered and the team were afforded a warm reception back in Navan.

But you wouldn’t run away with yourself either, says Flynn.

“The Tailteann Cup was grand, and nice to win it. But you have got to be careful here too. Because the problem is the gap is enormous. You are working from so far back when you are in the Tailteann Cup that the gap is ginormous.

donal-keogan-lifts-the-tailteann-cup-with-colm-orourke Donal Keogan and Colm O'Rourke at the reception for winning the Tailteann Cup. Ben Brady / INPHO Ben Brady / INPHO / INPHO

“If you look at that gap we have to close, I think we have lost our sense of identity over the last number of years.

“I genuinely believe that we have lost what we are about. The way we play. We have tried to change that and it doesn’t really work.

“I felt we lost our DNA, our identity, what we are really about. On the field of play.

“Our physicality in the last number of years had not been near what the top teams are. Our application in that area has been nothing as to what is required. You don’t have to be a giant. You can be small and physical.”

That ties in with Flynn’s fears around Meath. Over the last couple of years, influential figures around the county have left their posts.

Some are virtually irreplaceable, like Barry Horgan, the strength and conditioning coach with previous experience with Brumbies rugby in Australia.       

“When I was going for the Meath senior job, I met him for a couple of hours. And I thought he was one of the most incredible people,” said Flynn.

“He had everything that Meath would need over the next five to ten years with developing young players, continuity, getting right in there, under the nails of everything that was needed on that side of it.  

“But he has left. And it’s an absolute disaster for Meath. It’s so, so wrong.”

Before Christmas, Robbie Brennan the All-Ireland winning manager of Kilmacud Crokes who had been assisting Flynn with the U20s team, left his coaching position in the county.

More recently, two selectors from the senior team, Paul Garrigan and Eugene Eivers left their post.

Going back three years ago, former player Kevin Cahill had been Chairman of the football steering committee, but felt he could not continue in his role.

“So we have lost a huge amount of brilliant people. Six, seven people walking away like that don’t do it without there being a reason. They can’t all be wrong,” says Flynn.

He still loves his county. He waxes on about the  sheer size and ability of the young players coming through such as Eoghan Frayne, Ciaran Caulfield, Sean Coffey, along with the older stagers such as Donal Keogan.

He just wonders if the support is there for them.

“I am looking forward to going up and supporting the lads,” he adds.

“We have some very good players and I hope they do themselves justice. And that we have a structure and a set-up that won’t break down and we can compete and really show what our young players are about.

“We have some seriously good footballers and once they are set up properly, we can come away and give Meath supporters something to be proud of.”

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel