It took a death to break the ice between Cork and Meath

Current Meath manager Andy McEntee never made it onto the field of play for the 1988 All-Ireland final replay win over Cork.
It took a death to break the ice between Cork and Meath

Andy’s sibling and assistant manager, Gerry, however, made the sort of impact, literally and metaphorically, that October day you simply don’t forget. Six and a half minutes into the contest, amid claims Meath were bullied around Croke Park in the drawn game, Gerry clashed with Niall Cahalane and was red carded.

That Meath beat a brilliant Cork team with 14 men for most of that game was overshadowed by events of the following days and months as the back-to-back All-Ireland winners were demonised for apparent roughhouse tactics. The next day, the Meath and Cork players broke bread at the Royal Hospital and were addressed by GAA President John Dowling who said he was ‘disturbed’ by the events and promised an investigation.

Two months later, Dowling arrived in Meath to hand out the medals but midfield general Gerry and Liam Harnan refused to get up on stage. Three other players accepted their medals but declined to shake hands.

They felt, among other things, the battering Colm O’Rourke’s head and chest had taken in the drawn game had been forgotten, and the five stitches Brian Stafford needed on his lip after a challenge by Cahalane, and a collision between Dinny Allen’s elbow and Mick Lyons’ jaw.

In the days that followed that drawn game, Meath’s resolve hardened and Gerry was particularly wound up by a huge hit from Liam Hayes during a ferocious training camp in Louth.

“We played a game among ourselves and nearly killed each other,” recalled Gerry in The Boylan Years, a book chronicling Boylan’s time in charge which was edited by Hayes. “The people from Cooley came out of Sunday mass and were looking at us. They thought we were gone mad! There were three, including myself, hurt. I got a knock from Liam Hayes during the game. He gave me a dead leg - and only it was the Sunday before the All-Ireland final he would have got one back. I deserved to get sent off in the replay. Nothing on the field really led up to the incident. It was more to do with the three weeks building up to it and I went out on the field in the wrong frame of mind.

“There was nothing personal between Niall Cahalane and myself. For me, 1988 was not as enjoyable as the previous year. The whole saga of getting sent off ruined it. But, then again, for others it was wonderful. For the 14 fellas who stayed out on the field that day and who played really well, it was terrific.”

Nearly 30 years on, the McEntee brothers, with Andy as outright manager, will head to Páirc Ui Rinn tomorrow for a League encounter with all the trimmings having been installed as Meath’s management dream team. It will bring the memories of ‘88 flooding back for the McEntees who may hook up with some former Cork acquaintances while down south having buried the hatchet years ago.

The death of John Kerins in 2001, the Cork goalkeeper for the 1987 and 1988 finals against Meath, finally brought the two groups of warring players together. Up to then, bad blood lingered and PJ Gillick, who dropped into midfield after McEntee’s dismissal in that ‘88 replay, admitted, ‘it was just very hard to accept being branded as thugs’.

“There was a bit of bad blood between the teams,” said Meath wing-back Martin O’Connell in The Boylan Years. “We both went on holidays to the Canaries the following January and they’d be sitting on one side of the swimming pool and we’be sitting on the other. I wasn’t mixing with any of them, for some stupid reason, just the bad blood from the All- Irelands. You’d see them and just look at them and keep going. The thing that changed it all was John Kerins’s death. Gerry McEntee was actually treating John for his illness. Then he rang me when John died to say that a few of the lads were organising to go down to the funeral.

“There were eight or 10 of us that went. A lot went down on the plane on the Thursday night for the removal and myself and Mickey McQuillan drove down together on the Friday morning.

“Gerry McEntee was down, Liam Hayes, Bob O’Malley, I think Bernard Flynn as well, Joe Cassells and Colm O’Rourke. Unfortunately it took a death to break the ice between Meath and Cork. That puts it all in perspective.”

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