Sean Boylan is an icon of Gaelic games and arguably the greatest Gael to hail from the Royal County of Meath.
Known more for his exploits on the hurling field, the Meath county board surprised everyone back in 1983 when they took a gamble on the relatively unknown and untested Boylan, giving him the manager’s job during a period where football in the county was in the doldrums.
The Dunboyne man managed to remain in the role for the next 23 years overseeing some of the most successful spells in the county’s history. By the late eighties, Boylan had built one of the most powerful sides the game has seen as Meath appeared in four All-Ireland finals between 1987 and 1991, winning two.
As greats such as Colm O’Rourke, Mick Lyons and Bernard Flynn departed the inter-county scene, Boylan set about building another Meath squad capable of competing for All-Ireland titles. Backboned by a side containing the likes of Trevor Giles, Graham Geraghty and Tommy Dowd, the Royals won two more titles in 1996 and 1999.
One of the all-time great managers in GAA, Boylan was known to be a fiery character who got the best of his players, sometimes through the most unusual of methods.
According to Flynn, Boylan gave a masterclass in management one night when Flynn and, current Meath manager, Andy McEntee got into a fight in training. Recounting in John Scally’s book: “Blood, Sweat, Tears & Triumph: Tales from the GAA”, Flynn remembers being hit with a “dirty belt” by McEntee before a row ensued between the pair.
“Gerry McEntee’s brother Andy was on the Meath panel and, like me, he was very fiery. He was Meath minor manager and brought them to the All-Ireland final in 2012 but, with the greatest of respect to him, he could be a bit dirty in training. He was by no means alone in that respect in the squad.
“One of the reasons I became a good player was that I generally marked Robbie O’Malley in training and those clashes with him brought me on so much. He was so good that I had to push myself to the very limits to match him. One night, Robbie wasn’t able to train and I found myself marking Andy instead.
“He was anxious to get on the Meath team and wanted to make his mark and he hit me with a dirty belt in the ribs. We had words. Then he hit me a second time. I said to him, ‘Andy if you do that again, I’ll fucking bust you’. So he hit me again and I did strike back.”
Flynn recalls how Boylan dealt with the scuffle, first by sending the pair off to do laps, however, when the fight restarted, an angry Boylan took matters into his own hands, offering to take both men on at the same time.
“Sean Boylan was furious, not because we were hitting each other, but because we were doing it in a way that was disrupting what he wanted to get out of that session. He said, ‘That’s it. Ye’re going to do laps for the rest of the night’. I’d say there were about 800 to 1000 people watching us because we often had big crowds at our training sessions and this was going on in full view of everyone. Andy and I started running but we had only got to the corner when we started beating the heads off each other.
“Sean was so annoyed that he abandoned the training and ran over to us. What nobody realised was that he was ferociously strong and fit. Instead of stopping the fisticuffs, he hit me in the stomach with a belt and he said, ‘Ye think ye’re so fucking hard I’ll take both of ye on.'”
Flynn finished by claiming that he and McEntee could only watch on in shock as Boylan “cut the aggro stone dead” with a masterclass in man-management.
“Andy and I looked at each other. Sean was up on his toes and he was skipping like a real hard man and he was beckoning us forward with his fingers and he said, ‘Come on, ye think ye’re hard, come on and take me on. I’ll fucking take both of ye on.'”
“We could do nothing because we were in such shock. If we threw a punch he was going to hit back and he had ferocious power in his arms. He cut the aggro stone dead. We didn’t do it again. It was a masterclass in man-management.”