Over the past two decades, Meath football has seen somewhat of a downturn in fortunes.
There was an All-Ireland semi-final appearance in 2007 and 2009, as well as their Leinster Championship victory in 2010. But ultimately, since their All-Ireland final defeat to Galway in 2001, the glory days have long since left them.
Before that, it’s important to remember that the previous 20 years yielded a period of unprecedented success for the Royal County under the tutelage of Seán Boylan.
The legendary coach took over in the early eighties before building a double All-Ireland winning team consisting of legendary figures, such as Colm O’Rourke, Robbie O’Malley and Bernard Flynn.
Once they had edged towards retirement, Boylan began to re-build and, by the end of the 20th century, he had won two more All-Irelands with a team backboned by the likes of Trevor Giles, Darren Fay and Graham Geraghty.
Geraghty, captain of the 1999 All-Ireland winning team, feels that having grown up watching Meath be successful helped his side emulate that great side from the 1980s by writing their own piece of Royal County history.
“I think it does (helped watching Meath win). We came off the back of a very good underage system. We won a minor in 1990 and another one in ’92, an Under-21 All-Ireland in ’93 so we had that batch of players coming through to a Meath team coming to the end of that era. The likes of Colm O’Rourke, O’Malley, Flynn, all those guys that had won All-Irelands in ’87 and ’88.
“For us to come onto the teams that were still competitive and to have the experience of playing with those players, it was massive. We had that winning mentality.
“You could look at Dublin now, in a couple of games they played this year they were beaten and still ground out a result. That’s what we had, the winning mentality. Success breeds success and when you’re not having it, it’s very hard just to get across the line and break the duck.”
What set Meath apart during those glory years was the sense of identity that came with playing football for the Royal County. They had a reputation for being hard men, but their style of play wasn’t necessarily about physicality as down through the years they’ve managed to produce some of the classiest forwards the game has ever seen.
Geraghty feels that identity has slipped, however, the sport itself is at fault for this rather than Meath.
“Going back when I was playing, compared to now, we’ve lost [that identity] a bit. But teams developed, the game developed. Rules changed. It’s very hard to play the football that we played because it was more physical then.
“Nowadays they can’t nearly touch a player and they’re going down. Players are getting black cards, the sin-bin and the black card does effect teams more so than being able to replace them. I think it’s a good thing before there was no penalty as such you could replace the player.
“We just need to keep at it and try to develop young players over what’s left of the league and the next couple of seasons to try and get back up and be competitive again. We’re probably a long way off the top five or six teams in the country.”
To catch up with those top teams, Geraghty feels that Meath need to develop a marquee forward in the mould of a Colm O’Rourke, a Trevor Giles or indeed, a Graham Geraghty.
“Meath have some brilliant players. Donal Keogan is probably one of the best footballers in the country just that he’s not getting the breaks he needs. We have a lot of good players but we haven’t that marquee forward we need at the minute.
“I think it is having the big panel of players or whatever. Look at Meath over the past number of years, we haven’t got a marquee forward, the likes of a Conor McManus for Monaghan. You look at Dublin and Kerry, the forwards they have.
“We have developed playing a defensive system which doesn’t suit us because we are a small kind of team. We seem to put everyone behind the ball rather than leaving players upfront to win their own ball. It is frustrating, but you have eight teams up there.
“The big teams are always going to be there and, as you said, it is tough. You nearly have to be playing championship football in every game you go out, to stay up. We just probably don’t have the players around to sustain that.”