By Mark Jones
Meath 1-11, Cork 1-8
DUBLIN — The demolition men might be heading for Croke Park in the near future to knock down the famous Hogan Stand, but in truth, the destroyers of history had already gone to work Sunday. This time they were wearing green and gold as Cork’s dream of a glorious double came tumbling down.
Meath were deservedly crowned All-Ireland football champions for the seventh time as they survived a major second-half scare to pull off the victory in typical battling style.
Yet again, Meath lived on the edge, but yet again they proved themselves masters of the pressure situation. Early in the second half, Trevor Giles saw his poorly hit penalty attempt saved by Kevin O’Dwyer. If Giles had hit the target, Meath would have surged a massive six points clear.
The disappointment was quickly underlined as Cork recovered their composure for Philip Clifford to score a point and then for Joe Kavanagh to burst through the defense and fire an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net. Instead of having one hand on the Sam Maguire Cup, suddenly Meath found themselves trailing by 1-6 to 1-5.
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“It could’ve been so different if we’d scored the penalty,” said center back
Enda McManus, who had a storming game. “But they scored a goal and that got everyone going. You looked around and you could see the heads went down and everyone just started working. No one gave up.”
Meath soon got over the shock of conceding the goal and they finished in
impressive style with three unanswered points from Giles (2) and, fittingly, from their captain, Graham Geraghty.
This latest success represents a fourth All-Ireland title for manager Sean Boylan, who now joins the list of the elite football coaches. In charge of Meath for an extraordinary 18 seasons, Boylan has worked his own distinctive
brand of magic once again.
“This is the Mecca of the game, it’s like reaching the promised land,” was
his reaction. “I’m as happy as the first time we did this. You know, to see a group of young lads pick up the mantle and grow together and achieve something. It’s marvelous to see.”
If Boylan’s triumph over Armagh in the semifinal had the critics sniffing
with distaste, this was a far more intriguing tactical contest despite the wet conditions. It certainly wasn’t a classic, but at the heart of Meath’s
all-around resolve were several outstanding individual performances.
Mark O’Reilly was magnificent in the fullback line subduing both Mark O’Sullivan and this summer’s super-sub, Fionan Murray. Geraghty too had an excellent match. Pilloried in the past for his flashy and inconsistent interventions, this was a mature display by the Meath captain.
He provided a vital assist for Ollie Murphy’s 25th minute goal, he was fouled for the missed penalty and he scored three points from play. With
neither Giles nor John McDermott making the expected impact, Meath had still enough back-up to keep Cork at bay.
Evan Kelly too had a big first half as the winners cashed in on Murphy’s strike. Geraghty broke a high ball from Giles down to Murphy who fired a perfect shot across O’Dwyer into the corner of the net.
At that stage, Cork had more than enough of the play, but their shooting left much to be desired. To Clifford’s credit, he recovered from three early wides and settled down to play a major role in his county’s effort.
Sean O hAilpin, aiming to become only the second player in history to
accomplish the hurling and football double in the same season, couldn’t be faulted either. Found wanting at times earlier in the championship, he stuck to Geraghty impressively and delivered his best display of the summer.
Following Giles’s penalty miss and Kavanagh’s goal, the balance appeared to have shifted Cork’s way. “When we went level, we thought we’d push home our advantage,” Clifford said. “We always felt if we were there or thereabouts with 10 minutes to go, we’d have the fitness to drive it on, but Meath were that bit sharper on the day.”
The game ended with Meath pulling away and there was enough time for Tommy Dowd to come on for a few seconds to celebrate the end of a summer which had been disrupted by a serious back injury. It was another of Boylan’s thoughtful touches.
The last major sporting occasion of the century at Croke Park ended with Geraghty lifting the famous old cup. Larry Tompkins and Cork will be back in the new millennium, but then so will the evergreen Boylan and his young team.
Meath: C. Sullivan; M. O’Reilly, D. Fay, C. Murphy; P. Reynolds, E. McManus, H. Traynor; N. Crawford, J. McDermott; E. Kelly (0-3), T. Giles (0-4), N. Nestor; D. Curtis, (0-1), G. Geraghty (0-3), O. Murphy (1-0). Subs: R. Kealy for Nestor, 56 mins.; B. Callaghan for Traynor, 62 mins.; T. Dowd for Kelly, 71 mins.
Cork: K. O’Dwyer; R. McCarthy, S. O hAilpin, A. Lynch; C. O’Sullivan, E. Sexton, Ma. Cronin; N. Murphy, Mi. O’Sullivan; Mi. Cronin, J. Kavanagh
(1-1), P. O’Mahony (0-1); P. Clifford (0-5), D. Davis, Ma. O’Sullivan (0-1).
Subs: F. Murray for Ma.O’Sullivan, 43 mins.; F. Collins for Mi. Cronin,
49 mins.; M. O’Donovan for O’Mahony, 62 mins.