My Secret Meath Shame
I have an embarassing admission to make. Rather like the son of landed gentry who has taken up with one of the servant girls, I'm in the midst of an utterly inappropriate infatuation.
This Meath team, well, Papa, you see the thing is I'm afraid I've rather fallen for them. I know it's wrong, and it goes against the very laws of nature, and no good can possibly come of it. But our eyes met across a crowded stadium and, gosh, I was captivated.
Pretty much since that drawn Leinster quarter-final game with Dublin announced them as rosy-cheeked debutantes on the summer season, they've drawn plenty of admiring glances. For me, it was the invigorating directness, the liberating absence of complexity, the can-do gumption that did it.
Since then they've only gotten better, and the defeat of Tyrone on Saturday would make a Dub swoon, so full was it of heart and skill and countless almost-lost Gaelic football attributes.
Is it so wrong to love this Meath team?
The doctrine of Colm Coyle's All-Ireland semi-finalists (for the first time since 2001) is so blindingly straightforward as to create the image of countless rival inter-county managers smacking their foreheads in self-chastising disbelief that they hadn't thought of it before.
Firstly, populate the spine of the team with experienced but still hungry old heads. Brendan Murphy (the one-time-Premiership goalkeeper), Darren Fay, Nigel Crawford, Anthony Moyles and Graham Geraghty bring the know-how. Then surround them with a group of youngsters oozing fresh-faced chutzpah.
Then - and this is the best bit - larrup in the ball to your forwards whenever you have it, trusting them to win it and score, and seeing them grow through the sheer fact of being empowered to do so. See how Stephen Bray, Brian Farrell and Shane O'Rourke begin to inhabit the Croke Park manor over which their predecessors once lorded.
This current infatuation has nothing to do with seeing one of the old heroes of one's boyhood restored to former glory. No, while Meath were one of the big shots of the late 1980s and early 1990s, no-one actually liked them. They were rough and tough and mean and lean and they wouldn't have had the poets of the press box reaching for the Book of Heavenly Metaphors.
No, there isn't really any residual goodwill for the county; and I can't remember many shaken-headed conversations in recent years in which Meath's rehabiliation was yearned for.
So it's caught me by surprise, this feeling of excitement for the next time I see them play. I haven't felt like this for some time, you see!