A few minutes before throw-in in Navan, a group of school kids from the St Peter’s, Dunboyne and Round Tower, Clondalkin GAA clubs posed together for a photograph.
The St Peter’s kids roared “C’mon the Royals”, drawing the inevitable “Up the Dubs” response from the Round Tower contingent.
Sean Cox, who grew up in Clondalkin before moving to Dunboyne, would have been torn himself on a day like this as his native Dublin went up against his adopted Meath in a novel challenge. Meath ultimately came out on top with a burst of four late points, earning a rare win over the old enemy, though in truth, victory and defeat didn’t really matter a whole pile.
The match programme for the game offered a stark reminder of why everyone was there, to raise vital funds following the ‘catastrophic’ injuries suffered by 53-year-old Cox following an unprovoked attack outside Anfield last April.
“Sean cannot walk, cannot speak; he has recovered some movement in his right arm and right leg but can only be put in a wheelchair with the aid of a hoist,” it was stated. “Following discharge from the NRH (National Rehabilitation Hospital), Sean’s road to recovery will need to be privately funded by family, friends and donations. The reality is that the provision of this long-term care and support for Sean will necessitate significant funding over many years, running into the millions of euros.”
Around 4,000 turned out for the game - many more may have bought tickets and not attended - which is thought to have raised between €80,000 and €100,000 for the Sean Cox fund.
They’re hoping to raise €2m in total and yesterday’s game is likely to leave the current figure standing at well over €600,000.
Sean’s wife, Martina, and his daughters Emma and Shauna, posed for photographs with rival managers Jim Gavin and Andy McEntee.
There was a novel penalty shoot-out at half-time too involving sporting icons Niall Quinn, Alan Brogan, Charlie Redmond, Graham Geraghty and Johnny Murtagh, with Santa Claus in goals. Santa pulled off some fine stops, although, in the end, nobody seemed too sure who actually won the competition.
It raised a few smiles, though it was hard to escape the sombre reality of why everyone was watching Dublin play Meath in mid-December.
“Everybody was aware of the situation and like anything these things come from innocent enough beginnings and we said it would be a good opportunity to raise a few quid,” said Meath manager McEntee, a Dunboyne club colleague of the Cox family. “There was no issue at all with getting Dublin on board because it turns out Jim is quite friendly with Sean’s brother, Martin, so as soon as it was mentioned, it quickly grew legs.”
Martin was with Sean last April outside Anfield when the lifelong Liverpool fan was viciously attacked, changing his life in an instant.
Gavin was unavailable for comment afterwards yesterday, though his involvement on the sideline was a statement in itself given that he has ceded pre-season duties to Paul Clarke in recent years and is expected to do so again for January’s O’Byrne Cup.
Gavin fielded a relatively strong team too, including four All-Ireland final starters - Brian Fenton, Brian Howard, Niall Scully and Eoin Murchan - while Paddy Small, Eric Lowndes, Eoghan O’Gara and Conor Mullally, all of whom featured in the 2018 Championship, also started.
Skerries club man Stephen Smith, who impressed in October’s win over the Underdogs with 2-4 that day, scored two early points though Meath led 0-8 to 0-5 at half-time. Meath played Longford in the O’Byrne Cup on Saturday, losing by a point in Ashbourne, though Graham Reilly was the only player that started both games.
Reilly only started because Darragh Campion picked up an injury in the warmup and was ruled out. Dublin dominated the third quarter and took a two-point lead after Ballyboden’s Robbie McDaid netted in the 56th minute.
Footballer of the Year Fenton and sub Conor McHugh added points to leave the four-in-a-row All-Ireland winners 1-11 to 0-12 ahead, a scoreline that remained in place with 66 minutes played. But Dublin didn’t score again as Meath reeled off those four points without reply to win it.
Bryan McMahon got the first two of those points, levelling the game before the industrious Niall Kane edged Meath in front in the 69th minute. Mickey Newman, who top-scored for Meath with six points after taking 2018 out to recover from various injuries, added the insurance point late on.
M Newman (0-6, 4 frees); G Reilly (0-3); B McMahon (0-2); N Kane, B Menton, E Devine, J McEntee, D Quinn (0-1 each).
R McDaid (1-0); S Smith (1 free), C McHugh (0-2 each); B Fenton, P Small (1 free), C Mullally, S Bugler, E Lowndes, D Gavin, R Basquel (0-1 each).
A Colgan; S Lavin, C McGill, R Ryan; J McEntee, D Keogan, N Kane; A Flanagan, S McEntee; B Menton, G Reilly, E Devine; B. McMahon, M Newman, T O’Reilly.
M Burke for Ryan, D Quinn for Menton (42); S Tobin for Reilly (48); T McGovern for Devine (54); S Glynn for McGill (58); M Brennan for Colgan, G McCoy for S McEntee (64).
A Bunyan; R McDaid, S McMahon, E Murchan; E Lowndes, B Howard, C Mullally; B Fenton, D Gavin; N Scully, R Basquel, S Bugler; P Small, E O’Gara, S Smith.
CJ Smith for Murchan, C Cowley for Scully, A Byrne for O’Gara (h/t); R Gaughan for Howard (41); C McHugh for Smith (45); D Monaghan for Lowndes (50); S Boland for Bugler (52); O Lynch for Small (53); J Hazley for Fenton (59); C Murphy for Mullally (62); I Reilly for Bunyan (64).
N Mooney (Cavan).