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Why Colm O’Rourke is the key to reigniting Meath’s fiery rivalry with Dublin from the Rare Old Times

Peak-era Meath versus Dublin spilled a Tabasco-cascade of unrivalled spice on to an Irish summer.

Meath manager Colm O'Rourke. Photo: Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE


Colm O’Rourke has a phalanx of unlikely allies rooting for him as he seeks to relocate Seán Boylan’s magic dust.

It might once have been considered a sacrilegious world view for any citizen of the capital city to hold, but there are no shortage of Dubs quietly hoping Meath’s impressive victory in Cork represents the foundation stone of a bridge back to better days.

Allow us to explain.

It is entirely true that the more senior among Hill 16’s blue legions recall with an enduring shiver of dread all those Croke Park summers when a Royal summons seemed to combine the authority of a Papal edict with the pitiless finality of a plunging guillotine.

They will also tell you that within that stark vista lay the essential magic of Dublin v Meath.

That it was the very terror of imminent sporting extermination hovering over the arena that brought such an intoxicating surge to those contests, making every last soul in the coliseum feel as alive as at any time in their walk through life.

Many crave again the addictive combination of anxiety and adrenalin rush, the thrilling quickening of the pulse that arrived when their neighbouring tribe came rampaging across the Leinster horizon.

As Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed illustrated in Dubai, a rivalry laced with antagonism is the secret sauce that brings an elevated flavour to a sporting banquet.

Peak-era Meath versus Dublin spilled a Tabasco-cascade of unrivalled spice onto an Irish summer.

For a decade and more after Meath’s breakthrough 1986 Leinster decider (an insurgency led by O'Rourke's three points from play), it rated the most gripping show on Broadway, unmissable theatre that delivered a series of visceral, compelling, electrifying, elemental contests.

It required four games, three replays, two periods of extra time to separate them in 1991, a wild, transfixing mid-summer roller-coaster ride that started out as a football match and ended, a month later, as some kind of hallucinogenic trip, a national obsession.

After the better part of 350 minutes, the aggregate scoreline was Meath 6-44 (62) Dublin 3-52 (61).

Almost a quarter of a million people surged through the turnstiles at the ramshackle old Croker, the four-game box-set an impressive GAA counter-thrust to the previous summer’s Italia ‘90.

Green and Blue collided with the seismic force of broiling tectonic plates, the entirety of summer reduced to the claustrophobic dimensions of their rectangular battlefield.

It seemed impossible then, but by the turn of the century a steady corrosion of old certainties had begun.

As Dublin took flight toward the cosmos, a cavernous space opened up at the heart of Meath football.

The waters of the glory years receded far from the shores of a county that won four All-Irelands and seven Leinster titles in the glory factory years that stretched from 1986 to 1999.

Even as Dublin galloped onward toward history, their old foes slipped into near-irrelevance.

A solitary Leinster title over the last 22 years – an even that 2010 success forever stained by the awful, last-gasp swindling of Louth - reveals the undertow of decline against which O’Rourke must fight.

If Dublin/Meath was once football’s ultimate heavyweight showdown, Ali v Foreman, one that reached its peak with 1991’s gargantuan Rumble in the Jungle, it long ago became an exercise in pre-determined slaughter.

The two most recent Old Firm Leinster finals - 2020 and 2019 - delivered 21 and 16-point slaughters, mismatches that would have been unthinkable at the height of their rivalry.

Meath’s sorry 13-point tally over those two games – they managed just four points in 2019 – was 17 fewer than the 3-21 Dublin avalanche beneath which they were entombed in 2020.

Last summer, they met in the semi-final, a shade over 38,000 paying to observe Dessie Farrell's team's 13-point onward cruise.

A dual that once stopped all the clocks long ago ceased to be a meaningful contest; the 70-minutes instead played out to the crack of Dublin’s slave master bullwhip.

A cartographer of Meath’s fall might struggle to find any one point on the map where the sinkhole opened.

A drip-drip effect eroded old certainties: Dublin first getting their structures in order, then unearthing nugget after nugget until they had a once-in-century golden generation.

Royal complacency, a failure to move with the times, a hesitancy in putting in place underage frameworks prevalent elsewhere, that one that would yield the next Trevor Giles or Graham Geraghty or Darren Fay.

.That Meath, after a nine-year famine, have won three of the last five Leinster minor title offers some tangible evidence of a corner being turned.

O’Rourke, having swapped the Sunday Game studio for the sideline, is charged with ripping up the county’s loyalty card at the House of Torment.

The road ahead is long but Sunday’s raid on Pairc Ui Chaoimh – Shane Walsh and Cillian O’Sullivan leading a young team to an eye-catching victory over the recently crowned McGrath Cup winners – seeded hope.

It was Division Two in January, a starting point, a little acorn.

Meath are lonely for the old familiar, those days when a primal Royal battle cry was a familiar Hogan Stand soundtrack and, O’Rourke’s first goal is to loosen the leash on optimism.

It is a measure both of changing times and the enduring hold of an ancient rivalry that a few old foes are among those hoping he can revive a candle that has been allowed burn down a stub.

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