Boylan caused a storm with his football style

MAYBE it was just a coincidence, but each of the two All-Ireland football titles won in replays by Meath under the management of Sean Boylan proved highly controversial.

There was the sequel to the 1988 victory over Cork when, at the subsequent medals presentation, two players refused to accept them from the late President of the GAA John Dowling, and three others declined to shake hands with him. However, the fall-out from the explosive second game with Mayo eight years later had more serious repercussions when nine players received varying suspensions.

The modern history of Meath football is inextricably linked to the involvement of Boylan as manager for over twenty years, which represents a remarkable commitment. The Royal county didn't win its first All-Ireland until 1949, two others followed in 1954 and 1967, but four were won in a twelve-year period under Boylan.

Boylan remains something of an enigma to people who cannot reconcile his charming and inoffensive manner to the style of football his teams have a reputation for playing. Not surprisingly, it's one of the issues addressed in 'The Boylan Years'. Edited by journalist and former star Liam Hayes, it features interviews with over 50 players who answer some of the questions asked about Boylan and his teams. In the foreword, former Dublin manager Tom Carr explores the Boylan personality.

During his playing days, he found it annoying' that Boylan made a particular effort to be 'friendly' with Dublin players believing that it softened many of their attitudes towards their greatest rivals.

However, observing how Boylan always came into the Dublin dressing room over the years -'win, lose or draw' he started to think that 'maybe the guy was genuine' while acknowledging that Boylan 'is also smart and ruthless' where football is concerned.

P.J. Gillic was one of the players who didn't shake hands with John Dowling at the medals presentation in 1988 and it's something he has always regretted. "It was a childish thing to do, looking back," he says. "I wouldn't say it took away from the All-Ireland win. It was just very hard to accept being branded as thugs. It was as if Sean had said, 'look, you're going to go out here and you're going to be over-physical and win this game by hook or by crook,' which wasn't the case. Definitely, we decided that we weren't going to be pushed around, that we were going to match Cork physically the next day, but it was nothing more than that."

Gerry McEntee feels that there has been 'too much talk' about the Meath/Cork saga 'and the less said now the better.' "It has all boiled down and we have met and talked since, they are no different to us," he comments.

He concedes that 'he deserved' to be sent off in the replay, (for hitting Niall Cahalane), explaining that he went out on to the field 'in the wrong frame of mind.'

Martin O'Connell recalls that the following January the Cork and Meath players ended up on holiday in the same hotel in the Canaries. "They'd be sitting on one side of the swimming pool and we'd be sitting on the other. I certainly wasn't mixing with any of them, for some stupid reason, just the bad blood from the All-Irelands. You'd see them and you'd just look at them and keep going.

"The thing that changed it all was John Kerins' death," he adds, pointing out that the fact of eight of the players travelling down for the funeral 'broke the ice.' "That puts it all in perspective and that only happened last year, so it took nearly 14 years."

John McDermott explains Boylan's approach to big games. "I've never been in a team dressing room, under Sean Boylan or any other manager, and heard him say, 'Right, go out and take their heads off.' Never in a million years. If a manager sends you out to do that, he's not focused on the job.

"At the same time, can you imagine Sean Boylan saying to a fella, 'Mick, you went a bit hard for that ball. The next time would you just calm down a bit.' No bloody way. It's a referee's job to discipline players. And a manager should defend his men to the last."

In relation to the two meetings with Mayo in the 1996 All-Ireland final, Trevor Giles offers the view that Meath's (stormy) semi-final game against Tyrone affected Mayo's preparations for the final. "Everybody had been asking them how they were going to cope with Meath's physical approach. I think it definitely changed their approach to the whole occasion." There were a few minor skirmishes, but Meath were 'very restrained.'

"It's a fair comment to say that what happened was a bad example. From the outside, that's what you would say. When you're in the middle of it, though, you didn't feel your health was in danger. I'd prefer to be having a row out there on the football field than in a disco, where there would be lads with Doc Martens or bottles.

"I don't think we let ourselves down. The Meath supporters were thrilled we won an All-Ireland. It became a case of everyone else giving out about us, which strengthened the Meath supporters' respect for us, or appreciation of us."

"From that point of view we probably went up in their estimation."

*The Boylan Years, edited by Liam Hayes, published by Carr and Hayes, on sale in hardback at €25.99.

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