Every schoolkid dreams of playing for their club, their county, or their country. Few are still wearing the uniform when that dream comes true, but Luke Meade was.
A sixth year student at Hamilton High School in Bandon at the time, he was on a break from class when a member of Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s Cork backroom team punched in his number and asked would he be interested in training with the senior panel.
“It was weird enough,” Meade recalled yesterday at the Bord Gais Energy All- Ireland U21 championship launch in Dublin.
“I remember I got the phone call off Mark Landers who was involved with the squad at the time (as coach).
“To be honest, I couldn’t really believe it. Going back into class I didn’t learn much that day. It was an unreal experience.
"You’re nearly like a fan at that stage coming and training away with the Cork players. I was 18 at that stage.”
Meade’s first call, naturally given his age, was to his parents and, though the likes of Stephen McDonnell were more than welcoming to him, he was understandably “pretty nervous” entering the rarified atmosphere of that Cork senior dressing-room for the first few months.
If this was Disney, then the path from there to here would have been straightforward. It isn’t and it wasn’t.
Meade scored three goals against Limerick in a challenge match in Martinstown in January of 2015 but youth and a couple of hamstring injuries last year made him bide his time.
This year has been all about progress. Still only 20, he won a Munster Senior Hurling League medal with Cork in January, a Fitzgibbon Cup with Mary Immaculate College Limerick the following month and then carried that confidence and form into his appearances during the Allianz Hurling League.
All of which paid off when he was named in Kieran Kingston’s team to face Tipperary last Friday night.
One of five men to make his championship debut two days later, he claimed three points in Thurles before being called ashore with four minutes of normal time to play.
The innocence of youth seems to have helped.
Meade was completely unaware of the fact Cork were looking to avoid a third straight opening championship defeat.
Any external criticisms of the team’s inconsistencies fell on deaf ears. So he travelled with little in the way of baggage other than the odd qualm about the man marking him.
“It does go through your mind: ‘Oh, I’m marking Padraic Maher here, I need to do these things’. You’re trying to find a way to beat him, to use your talents to beat your opposing number.
"I didn’t focus too much on that. Just the job I had to do. For myself, thankfully, I got a couple of points at the start just to settle the nerves.
"It was the same with the other younger lads, they played really well and got on a lot of ball and did really well. We were happy with the start we got and just continued that on.”
The final whistle brought joy unconfined. Like so many of the Cork supporters, Meade couldn’t restrain himself when James Owens called for the sliotar and found himself sprinting from the bench onto the famous Semple Stadium surface to celebrate the defeat of the reigning Munster and All-Ireland champions.
Unlike the fans, the players have to rein themselves back in. The celebrations that night did stretch to a few beers as well as the traditional post-match meal but combatting the rising tide of expectations now will be a challenge as they face into a provincial semi-final meeting with Waterford.
“Yeah, it’s been mad alright,” said Meade.
“Every single person you meet is coming up and congratulating you, but you just kind of have to put it out of your head and not listen to it too much. Just listen to the management and the players because they are the ones that matter.
“We’d have expectations of ourselves anyway. Before the (Tipperary) match there was nobody really expecting us to win but we had it ourselves in the group. It’s just going to be the same the next day, we’ll just try to not listen to it from the outside really.”
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