Conor Neville: Celtic Tiger blamed for fall of Meath softies, naturally

Now that the unthinkable has happened and Meath have lost to Westmeath, is it time to revisit Martin McHugh’s much ridiculed explanation for the decline of Gaelic football in the county?

Conor Neville: Celtic Tiger blamed for fall of Meath softies, naturally

Back in the storied days of the late 1980s and the 1990s, Meath were the Nick Faldo and the Steffi Graf of the GAA.

When a team, invariably the neutral’s favourite, was disintegrating before our eyes, they were the inscrutable guys on the other side of the net. Their composure and hang-tough doggedness seemed to induce this kind of collapse in opponents.

The apogee of this was the 1996 All-Ireland final win against Mayo, the sporting equivalent of Bambi’s mum dying.

We liked to believe it was in their DNA. But it’s all dead and gone now. It’s with Seán Boylan in semi-retirement.

The Celtic Tiger has been held responsible for many ills in Irish society. There’s the obvious physical scarring in the shape of ghost estates that are dotted liberally throughout the country, the rise of materialism and the decline of spirituality, an increase in greed and individualism. All that guff.

Now, we must add ‘the decline of Meath football’ to the list.

So says former Donegal All-Ireland winner Martin McHugh, who argued a couple of years back that the Celtic Tiger had, in addition to all the other woes it created, caused Meath footballers to go soft.

‘Going soft’ is one of the most incendiary accusations one can make in Gaelic football and, no doubt, it is probably especially galling in Meath. One can imagine Mick Lyons blowing a head gasket at such talk. And then one can guffaw nostalgically about the thought of Mick Lyons blowing a head gasket at such talk.

McHugh suggested that, during the good times, Meath lads neglected their responsibilities towards the farm. No doubt they had their heads turned by the thought of going to college and all that.

‘Manual labours on farms weren’t being done’, he said and ‘that tough breed of player disappeared’

We can’t confirm whether he went on, John Giles-like, to throw personal stereos and higher education into the mix though no doubt these items are part of the same general malaise.

Either way, we like the idea of linking economic phenomena towards Gaelic football performance. Did the late 1970s stagflation inspire Roscommon to four successive Connacht titles? Did the devaluation of the Irish punt in 1993 help the sterling-using Derry to an All-Ireland title later that year?

The possibilities for pointless philosophising is endless.

Relentless Dublin in a battle for perfection

After about 25 minutes, Stephen Cluxton started hollering at Diarmuid Connolly and the Dublin midfielders.

Their movement wasn’t good enough for kick-outs.

The scoreline at this point was 2-7 to 0-3.

Cluxton resembled Roy Keane railing against a bemused teammate during a 4-0 win over Bradford City.

With none of the Leinster counties capable of giving them a game that doesn’t descend into a training session 20 minutes in, Dublin are now preoccupied with a quest for continuing excellence.

You can see it in the relentlessness with which they continue to rack up the scores even when the result is long assured.

They continue to move further and further away from the Leinster rivals (although it flatters the other counties in the province to use the ‘R’ word) — both on and off the field.

At the last Dublin-Kildare match game this column attended, the sponsors of the Kildare team, Brady’s Family Ham, handed out free ham sandwiches. It was a cold day and a very one-sided match. It was unquestionably the highlight of the afternoon.

Brolly’s nightclub tales are getting duller

In the Croke Park studio, Sunday afternoon began with the almost obligatory ‘state of the game’ discussion.

It is impossible to talk about a Gaelic football match now, without discussing the ‘game as a whole’. Every game is indicative of the state of the game to some degree.

Joe Brolly began by delivering the usual doomsday homily about the future of the game and the unstoppable nature of the modern blanket, name-checking the dark lord/evil genius Jim McGuinness in the process.

After a high-scoring afternoon, it all ended on a lighter note with the recollection of an encounter with Bernard Brogan in a nightclub. He didn’t say which nightclub, though many will inevitably assume Coppers - which now enjoys the status of the official state nightclub.

In future we anticipate that foreign dignitaries who wish to let their hair down will be directed towards the Harcourt Street hotspot by Irish diplomats.

The Bernard Brogan nightclub tale wasn’t as racy as previous encounters. Last year, Brolly told of how he was in a nightclub in America, when he pulled an American girl, they professed their love for one another, and set off for home before she drove the car straight into the wall of his apartment block.

The Brogan story was altogether tamer by comparison. It seems that the pair were just discussing football and Brogan announced his bullishness about facing up to Donegal’s blanket.

Shame. We got excited by the word ‘nightclub’.

When the GAA, rugby league and the Dáil crossed paths

This state has been a cold house for rugby league for too long. Despite their oft alleged increasing physical resemblance, rugby league and Gaelic football have had precious little interaction over the years.

There is Sky Sports’ Brian Carney, of course, who divides his time between teeing up Peter Canavan’s contributions for the station’s GAA coverage and doing a spot of punditry himself for their rugby league output.

Carney, who was a member of the Irish rugby (union) squad for the 2007 World Cup (he escapes any blame for what transpired on the very sound basis that Eddie O’Sullivan didn’t pick him), was a mighty fine rugby league player, enjoying stints at a number of those clubs dotted around the glamour spots of the North of England - Wigan Warriors, Warrington Wolves and Hull.

However, he is not the first man to involve himself in both sports.

Former Fine Gael TD Ted Nealon, the author of the Nealon’s Guide to the Dáil and Seanad, played football for Sligo from 1953 and 1959, appearing in the 1954 Connacht final, in which he was detailed to mark Galway’s Frank Stockwell.

Gloriously, while working as a journalist in Manchester in the early 1950s, he played semi-professional rugby league for the Cadishead Rhinos.

He was elected to the Dáil in 1981, eventually stepping down in 1997.

It is not a novel phenomenon for a GAA player to make it to the Dáil. If one was to stand in the gallery of Dáil Eireann and lob a bag of flour into the chamber below, the chances of an ex-GAA player getting their suit white would be very high indeed.

This, we suspect, is not the case with ex-rugby league players.

Playing rugby league in Lancashire has not usually been a stepping stone to Dáil Éireann. We cannot confirm whether his rugby league exploits featured prominently in his campaign literature.


Derek Ryan @derekryan

Great minutes’ applause from everyone in Croker for the Berkeley victims & the Harris Bros. @Hill16Army #DubvKil

Ross O’Carroll-Kelly @RossOCK

Fair focks to all my Dublin friends who bought commuter homes in Westmeath. You must be very proud tonight.

Jack Cantillon @jackcantillon

Biggest loss since 1893 for Kildare. Bleak.

Des Cahill @sportsdes

If my house was on fire, my cat stuck up the tree,& my car broken down on the M50 - simultaneously! — I’d call for #Donegal’s Neil Gallagher

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