Old electricity sparks as Dubs and Meath generate showdown
GAELIC GAMES:LEINSTER COUNCIL’S projections for yesterday’s big GAA provincial football semi-finals in Croke Park were slightly off when a couple of thousand fewer than the expected 50,000 arrived on Jones’s Road but they will reflect that things could have been worse.
The eagerly anticipated Dublin-Kildare final had already bitten the dust after the first semi-final and, with just less than half an hour to go in the second match, the All-Ireland champions were three points down and their combustible corner forward Diarmuid Connolly had been sent off.
With a Wexford-Meath final shimmering on the horizon, Dublin, assisted by the weird scoring phobia that appeared to afflict their opponents, recovered to stay live but it was the first semi-final between Meath and Kildare that generated most of the electricity yesterday afternoon.
There had been no doubt in the bookies’ minds about who was going through. Kildare were 7 to 2 on. Viewed through the prism of the league Division Two campaign this was understandable. Kildare had won the title whereas Meath had been relegated.
They had also won the last three championship meetings.
The spring had concluded with a messy attempt to remove manager Séamus McEnaney, which failed but without any ringing endorsement of McEneaney. By yesterday afternoon, all the talk of Meath being hard to beat and unwise to underestimate had been long been filed under nostalgia.
Short a number of first-choice players McEnaney sent out eight players under the age of 23, some of whom were men of mystery within the county boundaries let alone outside them. He – not entirely plausibly – denied he felt a sense of vindication.
“Absolutely not. I’ve said this a thousand times and I’ll say it again, the only thing that matters to me is the four walls of the dressingroom and the people inside the four walls of that dressingroom. I have a great group of lads fighting tooth and nail for each other, fighting tooth and nail for positions.
“They know the way I operate. I operate with players on form. It doesn’t matter about birth certs or names, it’s about players on form. And that has produced the goods for us.”
Kildare had gone into the match under the cloud of controversy, as former Cavan footballer Seánie Johnston completed the great trek from his home county to eligibility for Kildare by taking part in a hurling championship match for Coill Dubh in his new county.
This satisfied the need to play championship in his new county. But despite being cleared to play he wasn’t called on by manager Kieran McGeeney and featured only in ribaldry among supporters promising the migrant player would sign sliotars after the match.
McGeeney was asked about the matter and criticised the length of time the long-running and contentious transfer saga had taken but said he believed that he could have played Johnston had he chosen to.
“I can’t help the way the GAA make decisions. They want to elongate, change the rules, ask people for objections, all those things are out of my hands. How many players would that affect?”