Friday, June 01, 2007

A Rivalry That Transcends Patio Decking

Surely the rivalry between Dublin and Meath ain't what it used to be? I mean, don't most Dubs now actually live in Meath, and most Meath folk work in Dublin? And with Leinster's current status as a second rate football province, surely the meetings of the two counties aren't the do-or-die affairs of old?


Woo-hoo indeed. Okay, maybe the classic lines have been blurred a little of late, the Urban v Rural conflict being diluted by commuter belt sprawl into a rather less timeless Suburban v Suburban duel. And yes, where once the winners of Leinster wiped the blood from their fists, spat out a loosened tooth or two and headed forth toward a likely All-Ireland final, this era hasn't seen a national finalist from the province since Meath's dismal appearance in the 2001 decider.

Still, it's Dublin v Meath isn't it? It is a Classic Sporting Rivalry. It remains compelling, despite the devaluation of mediocrity and cultural homogenisation, for the following reasons:

1. 1991 and all that
The four game Leinster Championship series between the counties was of such seismic importance that it caused the final collapse of the Soviet Union. Not really, but, according to those who like to throw a bit of historical revisionism into their match-reports, it did save the GAA.

Apparently, so the story goes, back in the summer of 1991 the whole lot of us had cast away all that was good and proper about our sporting heritage and taken up with this new "soccer" craze. The pubs and clubs resounded to the strains of "Olé Olé" and dyed-in-the-wool Gah-men liked nothing better than to sport a pair of Gazza-style fake boobs. All over the country juvenile Gaelic football coaches were driven demented urging kids to "pick it up".

Then came that Dublin-Meath series and suddenly the nation turned back toward the path of righteousness, remembering that epic tales of tumultuous struggle were not solely the preserve of foreign fields, and we all lived happily ever after.

But if that lot's a bit rich for your blood, suffice it to say that as far as the Dublin-Meath rivalry goes, those matches will resonate for as long as the two counties play the game.

2. Here Comes the Summer
Like the last meeting of the sides two years ago, this year's version comes early in the summer - and on the June bank holiday weekend at that. For all that the opening weeks of the Championship have seen some intriguing encounters, a few surprises and much to talk about, there really is nothing like the earth-shaking energy of a full Croke Park to signal the proper commencement of hostilities.

Dublin v Meath is one of the few fixtures that can provide the Big Event this early in the summer, and as such, fuelled by the boozy bank holiday buzz, Croker will be ablaze come Sunday.

3. It Just Is!
Sometimes, the look of a match gives it extra appeal. A huge baying crowd, for example. Burly, aggressive protagonists. Or the colours of the jerseys. It's a brilliant contrast, the sky-blue and navy against the green and gold. It just works.

We're simple enough creatures at the end of it all, for all our compooters and personal stereo machines. We're susceptible to suggestion. Subconsciously, when we watch Dublin-Meath (or Dublin-Kerry, or Celtic-Rangers, or Barcelona-Real), the little kid inside goes "oooh, they must really not like each other, they're dressed TOTALLY differently!"

It helps to keep a good rivalry bubbling when differences are underlined. Thankfully, despite the flow from tenement grime on one hand, and cattle husbandry on the other, towards a patio-decked middle ground, the Sky-blue and Navy and the Green and Gold will always provide a healthy reminder of that county border.

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