It may have severed some relationships but Graham Geraghty maintains his return to the Meath fold as a 38-year-old in 2011 was aimed at improving the team.
Seamus McEnaney’s selectors Liam Harnan and Barry Callaghan resigned after not being consulted on the shock addition of their former team-mate to the panel prior to the championship.
In his Laochra Gael programme to be aired on TG4 next Wednesday, Geraghty says he wouldn’t have returned if he didn’t feel he could not make a contribution. Recalling the day he met the rest of the panel in Trim prior to a challenge game against Galway, Geraghty remarks: “I think they got a bit of surprise when I walked in. It was a bit of a funny atmosphere in the room because I had picked up on stuff that was happening during the week and I knew everybody wasn’t really happy in the camp that I was coming back.
“As it happened that day, Liam Harnan stood up with a prepared speech and him and Barry Callaghan left the management set-up not because I had returned but because of the way it was handled by Seamus and they really hadn’t much say in it. That was disappointing for me because I had soldiered with those two guys over the years and they knew what I could bring to the table and I wasn’t just there for any press exposure; I was there to help the team out and that, for me, was disappointing, really.”
Geraghty came on a substitute in Meath’s Leinster quarter-final defeat to Kildare and made an impact but had a goal disallowed for a square ball.
“I thought I had something to offer to the team and I was itching to get on and I came on then (v Kildare) and I got a goal and it was disallowed. The fact that I got a goal sort of justified, for me, going back and Banty (McEnaney) as well that this fella still has something to offer and whether supporters agreed with it or other management agreed with it, it was for the better of the team, not different personalities that were involved.”
Geraghty candidly recounts several of the flashpoints from his celebrated career such as the 35-week ban in Meath for accidentally striking a referee with a water bottle.
“I had given so much service to the county, given my whole life, really, to it and that I was hit with such a ban…”
And there was his county training session row with Stephen Sheppard in 2007, which saw him walk off the panel only to return and star in the remainder of the championship campaign.
“We’d an in-house game and an incident happened and (manager) Colm Coyle stopped the game and brought everybody in. He was like, ‘what are you at?’ We just had words and one thing led to another and we kind of goaded each other really and I just kind of said childish really ‘do you want me to go?’ And he said ‘well, if you want to go, go’ so I just went. That was it, really. It was schoolboy stuff. When you think back, it was silly.”
Then selector Tommy Dowd said they had little or no choice but to ask Geraghty back. “When he was away from the panel, we were getting phone-calls left, right and centre from supporters of the Meath team so this will tell you what they thought of him. For all his flaws and everything, they wanted him back and that was it. I remember one particular woman ringing me one night saying if Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley sorted out things in the North, she was wondering why we couldn’t sort out things out of a tiff that happened on the training ground. Unfortunately, there was more to it than that.
“Fortunately, with all the inundated phone-calls we were getting we came together and we decided we had to bring him back or there would be complete anarchy in the county.”
On the racist comment he made to Australian AFL player Damian Cupido in the 1999 International Rules warm-up game, Geraghty admits regret but believes the press had a major role to play in amplifying its significance - he sat out the first test as punishment.
“An incident happened with Ciaran McManus, I think, and he got tackled from behind or something and I came in and pushed the guy that came on him and we had verbals and I said something I shouldn’t have said to him.
“It was brought to my attention after the game that I shouldn’t have said (it) so I went over and I apologised straight away, apologised to the mentors and I thought that was the end of it, really. The following day then, the media got hold of it and blew the whole thing out of the water, really.
“I had said something off-the-cuff that I shouldn’t have said, I took it back, apologised to the player involved and he took no offence to it. Obviously, I was disappointed with myself and what happened but I
was kind of more upset for my family at home. I remember having to ring them up during the night to explain what had happened and tell them there was going to be stuff in the paper the next day.
“I didn’t realise the extent it was going to be and I was disappointed with a lot of lads who were out there, the reporters out there who were reporting on that game in particular because I would have gave a lot of time to them over the years. I never refused an interview with anybody and it wasn’t the fact that they were reporting on the incident but to the extent that they did, like.”
Former opponent, Seán Óg ÓhAilpín, who himself has been the target of racist remarks, defends Geraghty: “It was a heated moment and that was the first thing that came out of his mouth and that happens. I mean, I’ve done that in games when there were heated moments and I said things I didn’t mean.”
Geraghty also provides a poignant recollection of the 1996 Leinster final win over Dublin, which came a day after he learned his best friend had died having been a passenger in a car that overturned.
“We were lifelong friends, school buddies and played football together and soccer together. It was a massive blow for me. He was big into football as well and he would have wanted me to play and to play well. I remember the national anthem being played and trying to choke back the tears just saying, ‘Help me out here, buddy’. Thankfully, things went well and we won the game. He was looking down on us that day anyway. You felt guilty nearly celebrating. Once the final was over, you were back to preparing to bury your best friend.”
* Graham Geraghty - Laochra Gael will be shown on TG4 this Wednesday at 9.30pm.