Having attended my first G.A.A. match in over two years in the first week of July, it can officially be confirmed that the ‘buzz’ attained from attending games is well and truly back – if it ever left. And it is about to be ratcheted up considerably with tonight’s commencement of the adult football and hurling championships locally.
Here, an attempt will be made, by our man Nelson, to decipher just how the race will initially unfold
GROUP A: (opening round fixtures)
Ratoath v. Dunshaughlin – Ashbourne, 15/8/21, 1.00pm
The holders have many aces in their pack as they begin their defence of the Keegan Cup. In Conor McGill, they boast arguably the finest full back in the country, while the Wallace brothers were among the most impressive performers in green and gold this year. The champions could conceivably have a player with inter county experience on every line of their team, including the most influential forward in the county at present, Bryan McMahon.
In the opposite corner, Dunshaughlin boast some of the best young talent in the county in the guise of Adam Kealy, Ruairi Kinsella, Mathew Costello and Luke Mitchell, so the possibility of a keenly contested, highly entertaining local derby is very real.
Adding another layer of intrigue to matters is the fact that a large number of the same players will have lined out in the 2020 SHC Final just a week beforehand. It would not be unreasonable to assume the exertions involved with same might also leave a mark on the title holders.
However, given the firepower at their disposal and where their opponents currently are in their developmental journey, the reigning kingpins are fancied to prevail.
Navan O’Mahonys v. Donaghmore/Ashbourne – Dunshaughlin, 15/8/21, 6.00pm
It’s not all that long ago these two were facing off in a Keegan Cup decider. Back then, a brace of goals appeared to have the green and whites on the road to success but eventually the nous and knowhow of the Brews Hill outfit saw them home. The fortunes of both clubs have oscillated considerably since but you suspect The Moores would appear to be best placed this time around.
The blue and white hoops will look to David Dillon and Jake Regan, both of whom have attained valuable inter county experience over the last few years that they would appear to be very much in a transitional phase. For their part, Donaghmore/Ashbourne must be wondering how they haven’t lifted the Keegan Cup in their current incarnation. However, with Andy Colgan, the McGovern brothers, Bryan Menton and Dylan Brady in tow they should get over the first hurdle.
St Colmcille’s v. Ballinabrackey – Pairc Tailteann, 14/8/21, 6.30pm
This is one game in particular this writer is looking forward to. For ‘The Bracks’ it represents a first outing at the highest level while their opponents from down beside the seaside will be hoping to push on having consolidated since they attained promotion a few years back. They have some of the finest players in the county, particularly in attack comprising individuals such as Graham Reilly, Ben Brennan and James Conlon. If that triumvirate get serviced with enough ammunition they should be a match for anybody.
The men from the Offaly border will attack their shot at the big time with relish. To some they may have been surprising Intermediate winners last year over Trim but they were most deserving of their triumph. They possess all the expected attributes of a rural, country team and should be well equipped to hold their own at this level.
They will look to Sean Bannon, Nicky Judge, Danny Quinn, Chris ‘Juicey’ O’Connor and Seamus Curry and will be confident enough, with the sides having clashed not all that long ago in the Feis Cup. On that occasion, the green and gold had a point to spare and though inclination is to think the return of their county contingent might swing it in favour of the men from Pilltown, if there’s a seat on the fence I’ll gladly take it!
Na Fianna v. Curraha – Trim, 15/8/21, 1.00pm
Both of these two will fancy this as an opportunity to kick-start their campaign in the best way possible. Especially given that this has the look of being the most open group of the four.
With no disrespect intended to anyone, the last few seasons have been a case of over-achievement for one and falling short of expectations in the other.
Curraha will rely heavily on James McEntee as usual but to be fair players such as Neil Shortall, Jack O’Connor, Conor Moriarity and David Toner – if available – have eased the burden on the county utility player somewhat. For all that, if Curraha’s expeditions thus far at the highest level could be classified as over achievement, then it must mystify more than me how Na Fianna haven’t made more of an impact in the SFC. Maybe nobody more than themselves.
To be fair to them, they did qualify for a county final what is probably more years ago than what it feels like. Though they never really built on it.
Theirs is still a team well endowed with gifted, experienced footballers mind you. However, with senior survival being a major boon for ‘The Ha’, they get a hesitant nod to make a good start.
Wolfe Tones v. Gaeil Colmcille – Pairc Tailteann, 15/8/21, 12.45pm
These two clubs must know each other’s car registration numbers at this stage. Such is the regularity with which their paths have crossed of late. Most recently in the 2020 Feis Cup Final.
Therein, the Kells based outfit garnered silverware which their consistency over the last few years wholly merited. They must be still trying to figure out how the Keegan Cup spent last Christmas in Ratoath rather than with them.
If consistency and the old maxim about learning more from defeat than victory carry any credence then those who replicate the Derry colours must again be on the shortlist for outright glory this term. Indeed, that should be even more the case as they recently got the scent of victory in their nostrils having collected the Feis Cup for 2020 against the same opponents.
Justin Carry-Lynch, Jordan Muldoon, Seamus Mattimoe, the evergreen Brian ‘Beano’ Hanlon and Fionn and Oisin Reilly have been among the top performers on the club scene for the last few years, but so too have Tones troops Tomas and Niall O’Reilly, Saran O’Fionnagain, Stephen Sheppard and Cian Ward. The latter pair for decades in fact. It’s hard to see they’d turn an eight point deficit around in two weeks though. Gaeil Colmcille for me.
Moynalvey v. Simonstown Gaels – Skryne, 15/8/21, 2.00pm
Colm O’Rourke returns for what he claims will be his final stint in charge of the North Navan outfit, but I’d be more inclined to believe Donald Trump than swallow that. What is certain is that he of the blessed left boot has the Midas touch with his adopted club – guiding them to four Meath SFC Finals and getting them over the line in two consecutively.
The blue and navy appear to be in rude health again this term having recently advanced to this term’s Feis Cup decider. Their opponents have been incrementally improving since their return to the top flight, and the availability once again of Paraic Harnan will bolster the maroon and whites who will also look to Conor, Brian and Ciaran of the same clan, Cllian O’Sullivan and chief score getter Davd McLoughlin. But I’d still expect O’Rourke’s return to championship fare to be a winning one.
Skryne v. St Peter’s, Dunboyne – Pairc Tailteann, 13/8/21, 7.30pm
The Tara men are the great survi/vors of Meath football and will demand the utmost respect of whomever’s path they cross. With relevance to this clash, they are a club who have had the Indian sign over their black and amber opponents over the years. Any ensemble sent out in blue and white can be guaranteed to contain a helping of highly talented footballers.
Niall and Ciaran Lenehan, Eoin Smith, Darragh Campion, Harry Rooney, Niall Finnerty and Mark Battersby certainly fit that billing this time round. On the other side, Dunboyne have for a long time been the great unpredictables of the Meath club scene. Undoubtedly possessed of the potential to do great things but about as dependable as the Irish weather.
The return of Ronan Jones should be enough to get them over the line here but they cannot afford to take their eye off the ball for a second.
Summerhill v. Seneschalstown – Pairc Tailteann, 15/8/21, 6.30pm
Summerhill have also been one of the most consistent teams in the county for nearly the past decade. Accumulating an unfortunate record of losing three Keegan Cup deciders on the spin in 2017, ‘18 and’19. However, they also captured the silverware in 2011 and 2013 and are one of few sides who can call on personnel with inter-county experience on nearly every line of their side.
As they go into battle once again, they will look to Ronan and Ross Ryan, Conor and Eoghan Frayne, Davy Dalton, David Larkin and Barry Dardis to drive them towards the business end of the championship once again. Here, they are confronted by a Yellow Furze outfit undoubtedly in transition but for whom Cathal Finnegan and Cathal Hickey represent the beginnings of a bright future. For now however, the Hill should have too much