So, heading for Croke Park last Sunday with near enough to 80,000 other spectators, there was more hope than expectation that the Leinster quarter-final would carry the same weight of some of the clashes of old.
Because on paper anyway, there was something of a gulf between the teams. Dublin, one of the favorites for the All Ireland title, appeared to be experienced enough and talented enough to go the distance, while this season, Meath have a much more fresh-faced look about them.
They saw off Kildare with ease in the first round to suggest they might be a threat following a good campaign in Division Two of the league, however, taking on Dublin and their legions of fans was always going to be a much more demanding proposition.
And when Meath fell five points behind after 20 minutes as the Dublin forwards weaved many a pretty pattern, the likelihood of a memorable contest was remote. Meath teams of the past driven on by the unyielding presence of Mick Lyons, and the class of Colm O’Rourke, were able to redefine the whole notion of the comeback, but that was then.
Yet, from the wasteland of that disappointing start, something in the traditional Meath DNA came to the surface, and not alone did we have a game, we had a dramatic, swaying tussle which brought all the memories of the early ’90s flooding back.
The match wasn’t just memorable for the manner in which Meath clawed their way back from that early deficit, and for the way they refused to bend when the margin was once again out to five in the second half, it was memorable for some brilliant football, some bad misses, and some controversial refereeing decisions.
We’re barely into June and we might just have seen the best football game of the season. If tickets will definitely be at a premium for the replay on Sunday week, it might be too much to expect a similar exhibition.
Not to rain on anyone else’s parade, but as Kerry were thrashing a nervy Waterford, as Cork swept past Tipperary, as Laois ground out a victory over Longford and as Wicklow’s dream of a championship run under Mick O’Dwyer turned to dust, there was simply nothing last weekend to compare with the red-blooded occasion at Croke Park.
It finished 1-11 to 0-14 and Alan Brogan’s goal for Dublin might have been disallowed as he appeared to have drifted into the square ahead of the ball, while earlier Meath’s Graham Geraghty had a goal ruled out when he was adjudged to have fouled Ross McConnell. Both calls were marginal.
If it was no surprise that Brogan, who had a magnificent first half, and Geraghty would make an impact on proceedings, no one could have foreseen the role played by Cian Ward. Introduced as a substitute for Peter Curran with just over 20 minutes remaining, Ward was so influential that he must now have a great chance of starting in the replay.
As the temperature began to rise, Ward appeared to have ice in his veins as he calmly stroked over two frees and two 45s to put Meath in a position from where they could easily have won the game. But going into injury time, Shane Ryan created an opening for Collie Moran who edged Dublin in front.
Then with referee Jim McKee glancing repeatedly at his watch, Meath were awarded a sideline ball on the 21 yard line, and without the slightest hint of trepidation, Ward swung over the difficult shot to deservedly earn his side a second chance.
“He’s something else all right,” was center-back Anthony Moyles’s verdict on the county’s savior. “He does that all the time in training. I was actually thinking that one of us should have made a little bit of a run for him, but he wouldn’t have noticed anyway.”
If the Leinster Council were rubbing their hands at another pay day which could yield in the region of