By Daniel Hussey
Dublin v Meath has traditionally been one of the GAA’s biggest rivalries down through the years. Who can forget the 1991 four game saga? Or the five Meath goals that stunned Pat Gilroy’s men in 2010?
However, in many ways, this Saturday is a Dublin Meath game like never before.
Off the pitch, it is being played against the backdrop of rising Covid-19 cases across the country, different levels of government restrictions and even questions in some quarters as to whether we should be playing football at all.
With Croke Park deemed unnecessary due to the lack of fans and potential rental cost, the most significant backdrop could in fact be the empty stands of Parnell Park.
The game taking place there is a novelty in itself as this is Dublin’s first league or championship game in the venue since 2010.
On the pitch, it seems like a lifetime ago since we last saw Allianz National League action. A quick look at the table sees Meath sitting bottom with no points from five matches and they will be relegated with anything less than a win on Saturday.
Dublin, on the other hand, lie in 4th place with two wins, two draws and one defeat in their five league games to date. They sit two points adrift of Galway in first place and need to win both their remaining games (Galway away next Sunday being the other) in order to stand a chance of claiming a 6th National League title in eight years.
2020 will be the first year since 1936 that there will be no National Football League final with each division winner being determined by league position at the end of the seven rounds. This, of course, makes Dublin’s task that bit more challenging.
Allianz Football League Roinn 1
While many people believed Dessie Farrell was walking into a thankless job, nobody could have envisaged the circumstances to which the 2020 season would play out. As well as behind closed doors football and the lack of training time with the squad, Dublin have also had to deal with the retirements of Jack McCaffrey, Darren Daly and, most recently, Diarmuid Connolly from the inter-county scene.
Diarmuid Connolly’s announcement, particularly the timing of it, raised questions from a few former Dublin players including Paul Curran.
“The timing of it is a little bit strange with the county scene set to restart in a couple of weeks’ time,” Paul told Off The Ball.
“Look, he’s 33 years of age, he has a lot of football played with both club and county, he probably feels it’s the right time to go but the timing of it is a little bit strange.”
The former Dublin wing back finished by saying that the announcement just “adds to the woes” of Dessie Farrell.
Dessie himself perhaps gave his most famous quote as Dublin manager back in January when he said, “I’ve always taken the approach that there are two ways to live your life. One, as a timid soul, sort of year by year, month by month, week by week, possibly even hour by hour, as a timid soul. Or the other is to perhaps do the things that frighten you at times.”
Little did he know back then that his last sentence would ring so true as he stared into the unknown for the vast majority of 2020.
He can, however, still call upon a highly experienced panel including six time All-Ireland winner Johnny Cooper who is ready for inter-county action after a longer than usual break. He is viewing the Meath and Galway games as vital preparation ahead of their Leinster opener against Westmeath on Saturday 7th November.
“The two league games that we will have as challenges before the championship will be very important to get up to speed. It gives you match pace and match sharpness and just to get the communication and everything else that comes with those games” he told Dubs TV.
Meath will be looking to test themselves once again against top tier opposition and see can they close the gap further. Their main issues last year were seeing out games and the most extreme example of this was when they led Donegal by 1-12 to 1-11 in their Super 8s game in Ballybofey heading into the final quarter. They ended up losing that quarter 1-08 to 0-01 to eventually go down by nine points.
This was identified as an area of concern by Andy McEntee and one in which his Meath side have been working on this year.
As a result, they had showed signs of improvement, particularly in their two recent games before lockdown, losing to Mayo and Galway by one and two points respectively. They were also competitive against Tyrone and Kerry, something Andy was keen to point out back in April when the defeats were still fresh in the mind.
“We could have got something out of Tyrone, we should have got something out of Mayo. We could have got something out of Kerry,” the former Ballyboden St. Enda’s manager told the Meath Chronicle.
“We did play against Galway and we could and should have got a draw out of that one. They are all small margins that made big differences, but with a team that is on the learning curve that we are on, we have to learn those lessons pretty quick.”
Despite coming up against quality Division 1 opposition to date, Dublin will always be viewed as the true test as to where you’re at. Saturday gives Meath a chance, albeit in unusual circumstances, to pit themselves against the champions.
Meath have struggled against Dublin in recent years, to put it mildly, losing their last three Championship games against them by a combined 42 points.
It is almost 16 months since the sides met in last year’s Leinster Final, with Dublin winning 1-17 to 0-04. Meath had actually restricted Dublin to 0-09 after 50 minutes but once again struggled in the last quarter against a top tier county.
That game was actually played in front of 47,027 people in, what can only be described as, simpler times compared to what we’re living through now. What we would do to see a crowd like that in Croke Park again.
There are plenty of questions to be answered on the pitch ahead of Saturday’s game, from whether Dessie can continue Dublin’s recent success to whether Meath can stick with top tier counties in the final quarter.
There is one guarantee off the pitch though. Saturday will be a Dublin Meath game like never before.
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The game takes place on Saturday at 7pm in Parnell Park, live on Eir Sport 1.