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You can’t beat a local sports rivalry - Meath versus Kildare at Dallymount

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You can’t beat a bit of local rivalry – as the Bohs fans still celebrating Friday night’s sensational and shock 4-0 win over Shamrock Rovers in the big Dublin derby will gladly tell you.

There weren’t that many people at the game at Dalymount Park.  That much is a given now for domestic Irish football and nobody is really doing anything to sort it out.

In fact, the 30,000 Ireland fans who went to Poland for the European Championships would dwarf the total attendance for the Airtricity League of Ireland on any weekend.

That’s the reality of Irish football. We have a domestic product that few people want to support, and a very poor national team that thousands of people want to spend thousands of their hard earned euros on.

It is, as they say, a bit of a conundrum, and one that has exercised a few minds in the weeks since Croatia, Spain and Italy humbled us at the European Championships.

One man I know, and know well, has suggested to me that the soccer heads should take a leaf out of the GAA book and turn their game parochial.

In Irish soccer a kid can play for any team he wants to. There is no rule dictating that you have to play for your parish. There is no rule that states you have to play for your local team.

There is some sort of a distance rule – 100 miles I think it is – for the very best young players, but even that can be overcome.

The GAA is different, unless your name is Seanie Johnston and you want to switch from Cavan to Kildare, but more of that elsewhere on this page.

The GAA is built on parochialism.  My kids can only play for Dunsany because that is the Meath parish where we now live.  When they were younger they could have played for Dunshaughlin because that was where they resided at the time.

GAA transfers are few and far between and not easily attained -- as Mr. Johnston will testify.

As a result the sport is dominated by rivalries, some of them good and some not so good.

I have seen more passion at club matches in Meath between neighboring parishes than I have seen at Old Firm derbies in Glasgow.

I have seen players get so worked up about games against fellows they went to school with that you had to fear for their blood pressure.

And I’ve seen neighbors come to blows, literally, over the last minute point that won or lost a local derby.
It can, as suggested, be a good thing and a bad thing, but it also gives Gaelic games that unique identity and sense of loyalty and belonging that Irish soccer lacks.

We saw as much round our way on Sunday when a Meath team battered on every sports page for months now finally came of age and offered their beleaguered manager Seamus McEnaney some shred of justification.

Meath were up against Kildare at headquarters last weekend, a local derby if ever there was one between two fiercely proud counties who share a border but little love when it comes to football.

The prize, for both teams, was a Leinster final appearance, probably against Dublin even though they were playing in the first of two semis at Croker last Sunday.

As with all derby matches the pressure was great, the intensity greater and the expectation from both sets of fans the greatest of all.

Hunger was always going to be a major ingredient in deciding the winner and, as it happened and against all the odds, Meath had the greater hunger on the day.

The young Royals fought for every ball as if their lives depended on it. They took almost every scoring chance that came their way with skill and determination.

They wanted the win more than Kildare. They craved the win. They demanded the win.

When the final whistle went in Croke Park, just around 3:30 last Sunday afternoon, the smiles were all of a green and gold variety.

Banty’s Meath had beaten Kieran McGeeney’s Kildare. They had restored pride. They had given Meath men and women living in places like Enfield and Summerhill real reason to go into Kilcock with a grin on their faces on Sunday night.

They had worn the jersey with pride and with passion. They had won the football match for Meath, for their manager and for themselves.

Most of all, they won it for their parish and their club. That’s what makes the GAA so special. Sunday proved it.

The sooner the FAI asks the GAA for a little insight into parochialism the better. Maybe then we will be able to look the Spanish in the eye and beat them.

Now Meath players and Meath fans can look forward to another derby date and a Leinster final showdown with Dublin three weeks from now.

That’s another rivalry of old and another battle royale between neighboring counties. Bring it on.

(Cathal Dervan is sports editor of the Irish Sun newspaper in Dublin)

Sideline Views

SOCCER: Spain won the European Championship final against Italy on Sunday night and rightly so. Their 4-0 victory was a fair reflection of their current status as the greatest team of the modern age.  It’s also the same scoreline they ran up against Ireland, but don’t take any comfort from that – all the official

UEFA stats proved Ireland were the worst team at the Euros.
We already knew that, but the big question now is what is anyone going to do about it? Judging by Spain’s performance on Sunday night we are a lot further than four goals behind Iniesta. et al.

GAA: Isn’t irony a wonderful thing? No sooner had Seanie Johnston made an eejit of himself by playing 35 seconds in a club hurling game than his new Kildare teammates got the draw from hell in the All-Ireland qualifiers – against the very Cavan side he has worked so hard to get away from. Who wouldn’t love to be a fly on the wall when Johnston goes back to Cavan the weekend after next as a Kildare player.

GOLF: Remember that great story when Padraig Harrington’s young son Paddy wanted to put ladybirds into the Claret Jug after his dad won his first British Open? Well this past weekend Harrington hesitated over a putt at Royal Portrush because he didn’t want to kill a butterfly who had crept into the hole. The scenes as they tried to persuade the butterfly to move on before his ball arrived were priceless and great television.

SOCCER: Celtic started pre-season training on Monday, but their old friends Rangers are in a right mess.  They won’t be allowed to play in the SPL this coming season, their players are leaving in droves and they have little hope for the future. That’s what happens when you break the rules. As Rangers are now discovering the hard way, there is always a price to pay.

SOCCER: Nice of UEFA to honor the Irish fans for their exemplary behavior at the Euros with a special award. Nicer still of the FAI to ask the family of James Nolan, the fan who drowned tragically in Poland, to accept the award on their behalf.

SOCCER: Championship side Coventry City have just signed Irish striker Stephen Elliott and are about to do a deal to bring Kevin Kilbane to their club. There is a term about being “sent to Coventry,” but I doubt either of them are too worried about it.

HERO OF THE WEEK

PADRAIG Harrington didn’t win the Irish Open on its return to Portrush, but he won the hearts of the 130,000 fans who made the occasion so memorable. Harri played with a smile on his face throughout the week and did enough to suggest he can contend when the British Open kicks off next week. He deserves to be back in the winner’s enclosure, and current form suggests he is close to getting there.

IDIOT OF THE WEEK

THOSE in charge of the Kildare football team made a mockery of the GAA when they persuaded Seanie Johnston to play 35 seconds of a club hurling game last Saturday in order to complete his transfer from Cavan. If they are that desperate to win an All-Ireland then good luck to them, but at least Meath put them back in their box at Croker on Sunday.
 

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