Today was to be a historic day. Being from Meath I was hoping that the nine year Leinster GAA football title drought would come to an end. This morning I was buzzing and couldn’t wait for match time. Meath, my home county would take on Louth, our neighbours, who hadn’t won an All Ireland title since 1957.
The game started, Louth drew first blood, after missing an open goal.. David Villa would have been extremely disappointed with himself. Half time came though and despite Meath missing silly chances they were 3 points up.
Second half, Meath seemed to be on the ropes, Louth rallying better. A loss to Louth, being honest, is not something I would want to endure. I’d rather lose to arch rivals Dublin. Meath have always had a fighting spirit, you can never rule them out of anything and with ten minutes to go, the game was 10 points all.
Louth got a goal through JP Rooney but the Meath fans urges pushed the players on, giving everything in the last few minutes. Some completely stupid time wasting by kicking the ball away and then a late tackle saw Colm Judge sent off for Louth. With three minutes additional time to be played, Meath threw everything at the ‘wee’ county. A high ball in towards the goal mouth was caught by Joe Sheridan who turned and shot, the ball somehow was kept out by Louth. It dropped to Sheridan again who tripped over the Louth Number 3, Dessie Finnegan, while also being rolled over by goalkeeper Neil Gallagher and somehow the ball ended up in the back of the net. The goal was awarded and Meath won the Leinster Senior Football title 2010.
Whatever the result of the game, so be it. If Meath had to lose, we could have done nothing about it. If Louth had to take their open chances, they would have been celebrating. What happened next though, took our game and stamped all over everything it has ever stood for.
Seconds later, after the final whistle, the referee, Martin Sludden from Tyrone was ‘manhandled’ firstly by Louth players and then by Louth Supporters. if you watch the video, you will see a guy in a Louth jersey Number 13, wearing jeans, trying to separate Louth players and keep them away from the ref. Louth ‘supporters’ surround the ref trying to jostle and elbow him in the back. No matter what the referee’s decision, this was appalling. A volunteer steward was hit in the head by a flying bottle and a number of Meath fans got thumps and assaulted by Louth fans.
If this happened on the street the ‘accused’ would be charged with Grievous Bodily Harm. Their faces have been shown over and over again tonight on National TV. I, for one, hope that, they are named and banned from all GAA games and events. I hope that Mr Sludden does press charges. They have brought shame on themselves and the game.
As the GAA is an amateur organisation, the stewards are there because they like doing it. Stewards get a free roll and maybe a match programme if there’s one over. The pictures of seeing one of these volunteers lying on the ground having being hit by a bottle is, well, sad.
The GAA, when they renovated Croke Park, took down the old barbed chicken wire pens that us fans used to frequent. Instead, along with what FIFA do, access is available to the pitch area. The main reason for this is for crowd control and pushing, if any emergency incidents take place, they can be dealt with efficiently. No one wants another Hillsborough. Today, Louth fans rushed the pitch, attacking officials and umpires. Yes, Meath fans later went to the pitch area, this was solely for the presentation of the Leinster trophy.
Looking at photographs of my Godson today and the tears in his little red eyes, show how much this games means to us as a nation. I had thought today of writing a blog post about how the GAA brings communities together and while I’m Irish, the one true thing that that anchors my Irish roots is Meath football. It’s probably the one thing I can define as Irish about myself. The grassroots followers in local clubs and communities who never win anything, still get involved. It brings people together, developing community bonds and in a lot of cases, is the only means of outlet for many. There are so many GAA clubs around the world from San Francisco to Sydney, New York to London, these have become a home from home for many Irish emigrants.
Since the game earlier today, there have been calls for replays. Hey, the French didn’t replay the Irish soccer game. It’s nothing to do with either the Meath or the Louth players. They both went out there giving it their all. The referee had to make a decision one way or another about the ‘goal’. No one has the right to infringe on another being whether it be in daily life or in recreation. Take the decision on the chin and get on with it. Louth isn’t knocked out of the competition, they still have the opportunity to play through the ‘back door’ in this years championship. If Meath couldn’t take a loss, the press would have a field day. Louth – Take it on the chin and get on with it.
This whole episode became way more than a game the moment that the referee was assaulted. It became a violent act. There is nothing here for Meath to celebrate.
You know what’s sadder? I just found out that the number 13 guy in the Louth jersey who was trying to get the Louth players away from the ref assaulted Mark Ward. Again, another volunteer. If it happened on the street they’d be locked up. I’ve also heard stories tonight of a Meath legend being assaulted in the stands, a friend’s brother getting thumped because he was a Meath fan and Meath flags being burned on the street in Drogheda, Co Louth.
Louth fans, ok, I’ll rephrase. If you are a Louth ‘fan’ who took part in this disturbing loutish behaviour, you disgust me. You’ve brought the name not only of Louth GAA but the whole game into disrepute. I hope each and every last one of you is named and shamed.
If there is a decision made tomorrow at the Meath County Board Meeting for a replay, you’ll be in for a hell of a match. Louth, you have taken this beyond being a game.
I went to Croke Park today hoping that it would be memorable. Well, I got what I asked for.