The second phase of the Super 8s takes centre stage this week as Croke Park is set to host two double-header events on Saturday and Sunday.
First up on Saturday sees Cork take on Tyrone followed by the meeting of Dublin and Roscommon with Sunday’s pairing at HQ seeing Mayo versus Meath followed by the clash between Kerry and Donegal.
The Croke Park setting gives us a chance to reflect on some monumental meetings between these pairings at the home of GAA but none are etched into the memories of Gaels more than the 1996 All-Ireland Football final involving Meath and Mayo.
The saga from 23 years ago is our focus on this week’s edition of ‘Forgotten Friday’.
Meath and Mayo met in the 1996 All-Ireland decider with Sean Boylan’s Royal side looking to claim back the Sam Maguire Cup after back-to-back successes in 1987 & 1988 while Mayo were looking to end a 45-year wait for All-Ireland glory.
Both sides had an arduous road to get to the final. Mayo started their campaign with a win over London before taking down both Roscommon and Galway en route to a Connacht title. Mayo then swatted aside a resurgent Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final to book their spot in the final.
Meanwhile, Meath recorded wins over Carlow and Laois before meeting their old enemy, Dublin, in the Leinster final. Meath went into the game as underdogs against the defending All-Ireland Champions but managed to squeeze past their neighbours with a two-point win and set-up a semi-final with Tyrone which they won by nine points to book their place in the September decider.
In the end, it took two games to separate the two teams. The first day will forever be remembered as the one that got away for Mayo.
Mayo led 0-7 to 0-4 after a dominant first-half and they reinforced their dominance early in the second when a Ray Dempsey goal put them six points in front and en route to ending their famine.
The westerners lead by four as the game entered the final ten minutes but points from John McDermott, Trevor Giles and Brendan Reilly brought the Royals back to within a point before Colm Coyle scored the most speculative of points (it bounced over the bar) to save Meath’s skin and ensure they got another bite at the cherry.
While the first day will be remembered for Mayo letting it slip and Coyle’s freak equaliser, the replay will be remembered for a much more serious event.
Maurice Sheridan dropped a free-kick short into the Meath square and out of nowhere, all hell broke loose as players from both sides started swinging and trading punches after just seven minutes of action.
The referee could (and probably should) have given several players their marching orders. Instead, he opted to send-off one player from each side which happened to be Meath’s hero from the drawn game, Colm Coyle, and Mayo’s talismanic midfielder, Liam McHale.
As the action returned it was Mayo, yet again, who settled into the game quicker and dominated the first half with PJ Loftus rattling the net three minutes before the short whistle to put them 1-5 to 0-2 in front. However, moments later Meath were awarded a penalty which was duly dispatched by Trevor Giles to leave just four between the sides at the break.
A couple of Tommy Dowd scores helped peg Meath back to within a point before current Mayo manager, James Horan, extended their lead.
From here on out the game was filled with drama. Graham Geraghty latched onto a long ball before being fouled, however, the young supremo had the speed of thought to take the free quickly and put through captain, Dowd, who fired home Meath’s second goal to put them into the lead for the first time heading down the home stretch.
James Horan then levelled for Mayo as the game looked to be heading towards another draw and extra-time. That was until Brendan Reilly stepped up to kick his first point of the game in the final minute to hand Meath their fifth All-Ireland title.