President Mary McAleese is presented to the Meath players by captain Graham Geraghty before the 1999 All-Ireland final against Cork. Meath haven’t won the Sam Maguire since. Photo: John Quirke /

Jimmy Geoghegan: Meath like Cavan sustained by memories of golden past

Some weeks ago the Irish Independent did an extended article that focused on the teams who could be considered likely to make an impact in the men's All-Ireland senior football championship this year - if not push on to win the Sam Maguire itself.

There were - and I'm working on memory here - about 12 or 14 teams highlighted with reasons given as to why they could make a big splash. Meath wasn't among those included in the survey.

Meath simply don't feature in pieces like that anymore. They don't count when it comes to predictions as to where the big prizes will end up - and, of course, it has been like that for some time now.

It seems the Royal County has now joined the ranks of those counties who were once great - who were real contenders - but who now find themselves outside the golden circle looking in at the big guys feasting away.

There are other counties in that position. Cork, for example. They had realistic pretentions of landing the big prize not so long ago and now find themselves cast out into the darkness. Exiled. Like Meath, no longer considered serious candidates.

They must feel like a king desposed from his throne and now condemned, like the rest of the peasants, to stand and watch as a newcomer, a usurper, dressed in jewels and rich robes, passes through the streets on the way to his coronation.

Our neighbours in Cavan also know someting about having to stand back and watch as big boys claim the glory. They know about the good old days and how they seem oh so very far away now. They too were once the undisputed kings of the castle.

Between 1933 and 1952 the Breffni County made 11 appearances in the All-Ireland final. They featured reguarly on the biggest day in Irish sport and from all those finals they returned back home with the Sam Maguire five times, the players rightly feted and honoured for what they had achieved. Elevated to god-like status for the way they brought pride and joy to the county.

There were so many memorable, big days out in the sun for the boys in blue. In 1947 Kerry defeated Meath in the All-Ireland semi-final and by so doing guaranteed themselves a highly coveted trip to the Polo Grounds in New York where they lost out to Cavan in the All-Ireland final - a unique achievement superbly recorded by the Anglo Celt's Paul Fitzpatrick in his fine book 'Farytale in New York.'

In 1952 Cavan once again made it out of Ulster and were paired against Meath in the All-Ireland final. The neighbours kicked up a storm and produced a thriller that ended in a draw before 64,200 spectators. Cavan went on to win the replay, 0-9 to 0-5.

Yet who could have thought as the great Mick Higgins led his troops back to Cavan with the coveted trophy in hand it would be the last time the county would reach the top of the mountain.

Recently Cavan had cause for a celebration. They finished top of the NFL Div 4. Meath's performances this year in Div 2 have been so inconsistent they toyed with the prospect of dropping down the Div 3.

It's now 23 years since Meath last won the Sam Maguire. Who among the Meath supporters who watched Graham Geraghty raise the famous old trophy into the skies after the win over Cork that September day in 1999, would have thought the county would end up out of the loop for so long. On the margins, no longer considered serious contenters. It's nearly 70 years since Cavan last won Sam. How long will Meath's drought last?