There is a story told, apocryphal maybe, about Cavan playing Meath in a Centenary Cup match in Croke Park in May, 1984. Sean Boylan was at the helm and Meath were young and hungry and massacred their neighbours, 3-12 to 0-8.
Cavan supporters, then at the end of their tether after 15 years without an Anglo-Celt Cup win, scurried home down the old Dublin Road. Somewhere near the county boundary, in Royal territory but not far from freedom, a few locals had tied a donkey to a pailing post on the side of the road, there for all the passing motorists to see, bedecked in the royal blue and white of Cavan.
It says a lot about the neighbouring tribes. Meath supporters knew they were coming strong and didn’t let the occasion pass without letting their downtrodden neighbour to the north know, too.
We’re not sure if there were any donkeys tethered around Whitegate, Kingscourt or Mountnugent last Saturday night but Cavan supporters left Páirc Tailteann basking in the after-glow of a sweet victory over their old rivals.
Meath supporters, to a man, couldn’t believe it. Cavan are now the hungry young team with the ferocious desire whereas Meath looked like a poor imitation of the men who brought war to their opponents for 20 years or so from the mid-1980s on.
Reputation is a worthless currency on the big day and Meath can’t trade on it any more. Cavan, for their part, haven’t had one to brag about for the longest time either but those in the know reckon that the current squad have the talent and appetite to elevate the county from its lowly current position. And that would be a start.
Terry Hyland insisted that there will be no hype and “absolutely no problem” keeping the players focused should they beat Sligo this weekend and edge closer to the top of the table. The nature of the beast, though, is that the dormant Cavan support will erupt should the team finally embark on a winning run.
It’s a game at a time for now, but the embers have been lit. Who knows where this season will take us?
Oh yeah, and that Centenary Cup? Well, it was just the start – Meath would make their Leinster breakthrough shortly afterwards and went on to win four senior All-Irelands in a glorious decade and a half. After they scraped past Monaghan in the final, Boylan was asked for a comment.
“We’ll be back,” he said, “to retain our title – 100 years from now!”
Well, they’d want to improve in the next 71. Breffni abu!