Bealin and Magee: ‘Splitting Dublin would be toxic. It would create a Celtic v Rangers’

Unlike many in the current Dublin panel, Paul Bealin and Johnny Magee know what it’s like to lose to Meath.

Bealin and Magee: ‘Splitting Dublin would be toxic. It would create a Celtic v Rangers’

BENCH MEN: Johnny Magee and Paul Bealin taking time out in Dublin earlier this week. Picture: Moya Nolan
BENCH MEN: Johnny Magee and Paul Bealin taking time out in Dublin earlier this week. Picture: Moya Nolan

Unlike many in the current Dublin panel, Paul Bealin and Johnny Magee know what it’s like to lose to Meath. They have also managed Leinster counties in Dublin’s shadow.

Both work in Dublin — Magee is also the current Kilmacud Crokes senior football manager — but they live outside the county too. They are two Dubs with plenty of perspective, they tell John Fogarty.

John Fogarty: You’re going on Sunday?

Johnny Magee: I’m not. With four girls and my wife involved in Gaelic4Mothers&Others in Ashbourne, we’re generally all going out the door so we try to have a day when we’re all together. I like to go but when I go most of us go, so it’s then trying to organise a babysitter.

I have to have it well planned out so I try to leave it until later in the year. I’ll watch it, of course.

JF:You were in Portlaoise for the Louth game, Paul. Going again this weekend?

Paul Bealin: I’m actually going on holidays to Spain on Sunday morning but I would have gone otherwise. I’ll watch it over there. I don’t go to every single Dublin game because sometimes it’s a non-contest and I find it hard to watch those games. I went to the Louth game because I heard Dublin had played Cork in a challenge game and had been beaten.

I wanted to see where we were. Dublin were ruthless, they were hungry, they were full of running. I went to the Kildare game after that. I’m not managing a team this year so I don’t have to be anywhere. Some of the players I thought looked tired in the league programme had their second wind again against Kildare.

JF: Do games against Meath still excite you?

PB: You’d always know when you were playing Meath. There was no one banging the dressing room doors to get out — everyone knew what was required. There was a different focus. This particular Dublin team seem to have that focus for every game and don’t have that respect for rivalries of 20 years ago.

I look at Meath and they disappointed me against Wexford in 2007 when I was in charge. They were 10 points up and we beat them. They disappointed me because I knew traditionally that when Meath went ahead they killed off the game.

Then they did the exact same against Westmeath in 2015. You would never have seen that in my playing days. Dublin are going for 14 of the last 15 Leinster Championships and the rivalry with Meath has changed so nobody has pushed them.

JM: If Dublin were going for 20 in a row I would still want the lads to be tuned in. They have that belief in themselves that you have to admire. There’s no better man to be in charge of them. Jim has been on the receiving end of defeats to Meath so he knows what it’s about.

They respect every opposition they play. It’s the one thing I really like about them because it doesn’t matter if a team is from Division 4 or 1 they respect them. You look at their games against the so-called weaker counties and they’ve nullified their main threats so they do their homework.

JF:How is life across the border in Ashbourne on weeks like this, Johnny?

JM: We’re 14 years there now. It’s a lovely town. My 13-year-old Ava won the Division 1 Meath league title with Donaghmore-Ashbourne and they’re involved in the Feile next weekend. She’s going well as is Lauren with Dublin (two-time All-Ireland winner). My eight-year-old is U9s and my six-year-old is dipping her toe into the water.

I’ve got used to Ava wearing a different jersey to the Crokes. There’s a good bit of Dublin-Meath banter in Ashbourne and the club is very welcoming. When Dublin are going well, there is no crowd better than the Meath crowd to jump on the Anyone-But-Dublin bandwagon.

There’s a huge community there and the street leagues are massive. My little two were playing in it and there were 250 playing in it. Mick Deegan, Charlie Redmond and myself are in Ashbourne. Barney (Rock) is in Garristown. I’d bump into them every so often in the street and it’s nice.

JF: From a playing perspective, which Meath games stand out for you?

JM:The 2002 one for numerous reasons, the obvious one being we bet them and put that ghost to bed having been beaten in ’99 and then 2001. They won the All-Ireland in ’99 and got to the final in 2001 and they had stars like Trevor Giles and Darren Fay and John McDermott. I did my lateral cruciate in the first five minutes.

Donal Curtis came in on me just a tiny bit late on top of my knee and the physio came on and I said I was grand. The fact we were beaten by them in two Leinster finals, there was no way I was coming off unless I was brought off on a stretcher. I didn’t have a great game in the 2001 final.

I shouldn’t have played — I was in a car crash the previous week. Lauren was in the car with me, I was coming back from Crumlin Hospital with her as she had fallen in the playground. We left the hospital then we ended up going back with her and I went to Vincent’s the next day to stay for a night or two. I was concussed, I probably shouldn’t have played but it was a Leinster final against Meath.

JF: Meath does that sort of thing to Dublin people.

JM: 1999 was my first Leinster final. I was marking Trevor Giles and he walks out with this sleeveless bleedin’ jersey. I had made my debut against Laois in the previous game, marking Michael Lawlor. I was 21, I was a kid. And here he walks out with no sleeves. That defeat was tough to take particularly at such a young age and trying to get your head around that.

PB: I came into the squad in ’88 and finished in ’98. Meath were dominant at the beginning and at the end. We won four Leinsters after ’91 and then Meath went on to win the All-Ireland after beating us in ’96. There was very little between us. I missed the penalty in ’97 (Leinster quarter-final), which people tend to remind me of the odd time.

JF:How was Jim Gavin as a teammate?

JM: Jim was one of the lads. He would have looked out for me. As a young lad and coming from Kilmacud and knowing that other Crokes lads hadn’t pushed on in the squad for whatever reason, I made a point of getting in with the older players like Jim, Paul Curran, Dessie (Farrell), Bealo and Deego. Be a bit of a cheeky pup too.

PB: He was very unassuming. He was very meticulous as was Paul Clarke and what I mean by that was when they arrived to training their gear was laid out with military precision. I remember when he was trying to get into the squad at corner-forward and we’d get into a huddle before a league game.

One midfielder would go with the forwards and the other with the backs and I went with the forwards and Jim said, ‘Bealo, just drop a low ball in front of me, I’ll be out in front and we’ll get a couple of scores’. I was marking a fella who was a handful and I wasn’t worried if Jim was out in front until I see him.

Two weeks later and he was saying the same thing and I was saying, ‘Yeah, yeah, Jim’. My hands were full again and I forgot all about Jim. Before the next game, Jim says, ‘Bealo, just drive the ball up as high as you can in the air’. He got my attention. I said, ‘What do you mean?’

He said, ‘Drive it in any fucking way because it’s not coming in from you!’ The point I’m making is he got my attention in a very clever way. The first ball that came my way in the third game I banged it in low to Jim and he swivelled and put it over the bar and he just (gestures a thumbs-up).

JM: We beat Donegal in 2002 after a quarter-final replay and the lads were walking the pitch afterwards because the crowd has stayed. We got back inside to the dressing room and Jim was there raging. ‘What the fuck are yas doing? No All-Ireland was won today. Armagh will be laughing watching us celebrating winning a quarter-final’. I was caught up in the whole thing and I was thinking Jim was wrong but he was spot on.

JF:How did your three years as Wicklow manager colour your opinion of the Leinster Championship, Johnny?

JM: It can’t keep going the way it’s going. Something has to happen but if you look at Roscommon last weekend that was a terrific victory for them and there were great scenes. They won Connacht the best way, beating Mayo away and Galway away. You look at Cavan in Ulster this weekend too.

But then Roscommon have been a coming team and Cavan have been in Division 1. It’s more games that are needed. If they want to keep the Leinster Championship then keep it but there has to be more than one guaranteed qualifier game for teams. Teams need to have the same amount of games as they do in the league in order to progress, to find players.

JF: You managed Wexford, Carlow and Westmeath, Paul. Needless to say the landscape isn’t pretty in Leinster outside Dublin.

PB: I’ve four sons and I’ve brought my youngest Dylan, who’s 11, to the Leinster finals but there’s no enjoyment winning by 15 or 20 points and walking out of Croke Park looking at the opposition deflated. People might think it’s great to win by that much but it’s actually not because there’s no competition.

I’ve been on the other side managing guys and it’s quite difficult getting those guys up. I played for Leinster with Wicklow’s Kevin O’Brien in ’89 or ’90 and it was a cold day down in Killarney. We were chatting on the way down in the bus and he was saying the difference between Dublin and Wicklow was Dublin were running around cones knowing you’re going to be in a Leinster final and Wicklow were doing it knowing they didn’t have a chance.

We were doing the same running but the belief was different. You don’t understand that until you start managing these teams and try to start instilling that belief. My son (Jonathan) played for Wexford this year and they got close against Louth but then got half a hiding from Derry. He’s doing all the right things — working hard four or five nights a week, eating the right food, putting the commitment in — but it’s so tough.

JF: You both support a tiered championship?

JM: Yes. Say there’s the Páidí Ó Sé Cup, the final is played on All-Ireland final day and you go up a tier for winning it.

PB: There should be tiers and how they incorporate the provincials into that system is up for debate.

JF: Is the money/size argument against Dublin a fair one?

JM: There are valid points on both sides. It’s easier to generate money in a city than a rural area but then you look at the fundraising St Kevin’s have done up in Louth with the house raffle. When there are people who are committed there is a way of going about things. A lot of volunteerism goes into Dublin such as the mini All-Irelands in Kilmacud this week.

Clubs are all investing in their structures and they realise the academies are their futures. The biggest battle is retaining children as players as they grow into the teenage years and also the attraction of other sports. In my opinion, clubs in Dublin were forced to take on people because you look at Leinster Rugby now and it’s huge. They saw how other sports were working and just had to react.

PB: On that, the idea of splitting Dublin in two is just ridiculous.

JM: Splitting a county in two, it’s madness.

PB: There’s already great rivalry within a Dublin squad north and south. That banter is there.

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