DUBLIN VERSUS MEATH.
It’s a combination of counties that conjure up more romanticised Championship memories than most.
“That’s really what inspired me to play for Dublin.” Says Eamon Fennell, who will line out against the Royals’ midfield on Sunday.
He’s played Dublin’s near neighbour plenty of times before, but most appearances have come in relatively meaningless league or O’Byrne Cup ties.
Nothing quite like this.
For Dublin, the memories of their trashing in 2010 still burn.
“The five goals just should never happen really.” says Fennell, after suppressing a wry laugh at the memory.
“They (Meath) just showed when they get going they can do that to you. So, again, we just have to be ready on the day and that starts from now: concentrate on just them and make sure we are going in the right direction.”
The right direction, for Fennell, could well be anywhere within the white line. Against Wexford he was withdrawn at half time in favour of Michael Darragh Macauley – was he surprised to get the shepherds crook?
“Yes and no, I was doing what I was told, we were just getting overun in the middle and I just knew we needed more support in there. Mick is more attack minded than me so we probably needed someone to break the line and Mick was the man for it.
“For the team it was the right substitution. I was a bit upset that I got taken off at half time but I think it was the right decision for the team.”
“It’s very rarely you are going to see one of the lads stay on the pitch for 70 minutes.” Fennell added. “We have the subs there and we might as well use them. Pat was quick to make the subs so if you are not performing he is quick to make the subs.”
When you take a step back, these neighbours could scarcely be arriving at Croke Park from more opposing points on the inter-county spectrum.
For Dublin, the winter was sweetness and light. Sam Maguire was safely locked away and many of the big guns were allowed miss the league.
Meath, on the other hand, were out of the championship this time last year. Seamus McEnaney was the unlikely survivor of a boardroom heave against him and Joe Sheridan had to be called off a Boston building site. Yet, here they are; posing enough of a threat to scare Dublin out of the starting blocks.
“I think a lot of people have wrote them off,’ Fennell says, “but they’ve come back stronger than ever now.
“They are a really good football team to beat Kildare who are another really good football team. Meath have really proven that they can hurt you now as well. We know we have to have our wits about us again the next day and we can’t start as slowly as we did in the semis.”
As he harks back to the glory days of Charlie Redmond, Colm O’Rourke and those four heated encounters, his lust for a Croke Park collision appears to grow.
“You see these lads coming out and contesting for everything, they are hard hitting, they are physical games and that passion hasn’t really been there in the last few years and hopefully we’ll get a good game in the final.”
When these sides meet in a full house at Croke Park, a provincial title almost becomes secondary. All that matters is winning. And, as Fennell points out, 2010 is not the only loss Dublin need to point to in search of motivation.
“It doesn’t matter who you play against, you always want to beat them – but the last time we played Meath in a Leinster final was 2001. Meath got the better hand that day. Hopefully we can take it the next day.”