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Benny Tierney: Dublin and Meath is a rivalry for the ages

 Vinny Murphy of Dublin is challenged by Meath’s Mick Lyons during the epic Leinster Championship saga in 1991
Picture by Sportsfile

LAST weekend Dublin and Meath of the 1991 vintage were all over the papers and TV, recalling the glorious Leinster Championship meetings a quarter-of-a-century ago when they had the whole country enthralled.

That absorbing saga repeatedly packed out Croke Park.

How we now yearn for something that would resemble those encounters, but they are few and very far between nowadays.

Those clashes were so physical and enthralling, with absolutely no quarter asked or given, and yet both teams gained admiration the length and breadth of Ireland for how they played the game.

I can remember, as a young county player, travelling to the capital with other Armagh players to watch these matches because we were told the television just wasn’t doing them justice and that was true on so many levels.

The stories about those games and behind the scenes are equally as captivating.

Even though both teams hammered the complete bejaysus out of each other to an extent that bordered on brutality, many from these two teams remain close friends and drinking buddies.

Those friendships were borne out of the many battles they had and a certain amount of respect that two heavyweights would have for each other after pummelling each other for 15 rounds.

They will not be talking or rolling out the TV cameras to reminisce about last weekend’s Leinster semi-final between the Dubs and the Royals in 25 years’ time as there is next to no comparison with what we witnessed on Sunday.

As much as we may want that rivalry to reappear, I fear we will only be living off memories as the Leinster Championship is now a very diluted and tame affair, much like Munster.

I know we in Ulster have always boasted that our Championship is the best, but it is fast becoming the only competitive one we have judging by what we have watched this year.

The prospect of provincial finals between Dublin and Westmeath or Kerry and Tipperary does little to whet the appetite.

While that may be slightly condescending to both Tipp and Westmeath, very few out of their own panels and backroom team will give much chance of making the breakthrough this year.

I am sure their mentors will talk about Iceland, Leicester and Connacht in a bid to enthuse and motivate their team to grab their chance.

However, neither Dublin nor Kerry can be compared to the English soccer team as they are a bunch of overpaid individuals who haven’t bought in to the team philosophy since 1966, while Kerry and Dublin are filled with quality players who know what it takes to win and have been doing it since our games began.

People have taken pot shots at Ulster football for years but now they can do very little but sit back and admire a province that, at times, lacks quality but retains the age old traditions of battling, physicality and rivalry.

This fuels a Championship of genuine worth and intrigue which is backed up by the fact that our two semi-finals have gone to replays this weekend.

One is slightly easier to call for me as I feel that Tyrone have had a few weeks to prepare for David Givney and the hassle he caused them in their last encounter.

Terry Hyland’s men depended on goals to stay with the Red Hands in the first game and if Tyrone are a little more ruthless and pick their best starting forward unit, which they have been tinkering with, then I can see them making the Ulster final in another competitive and tight finish.

In the other game between Donegal and Monaghan, we have two heavyweights slugging it out again and don’t be surprised if they go to extra-time to seek out the winner.

In their last two games, there has been practically nothing between them.

We can recall Paddy McBrearty just failing in injury time to take last year’s Ulster final to a replay and, this year, we had Conor McManus taking us to a second game, which was great for the neutrals at least.

It’s almost impossible to call but, for the first time ever, I am going to tip in favour of Monaghan, not because they fought back to claim a draw but because they were able to live with Donegal, even though the two Hughes brothers, Darren and Kieran, had surprisingly quiet afternoons.

If the two Scotstown men have more of an impact tomorrow night, then I can see Malachy O’Rourke’s men shading it by a point.

And now onto the last big replay (even though they didn’t draw in the last game) of the weekend – the tie between Armagh and Laois.

As we were always told as children, never look a gift horse in the mouth and Kieran McGeeney and Armagh must look on this opportunity as a muchneeded second chance to rescue what has been a poor season.

Armagh are totally beset by injury worries for the reprieve/replay and have had to call up players to the panel at short notice to plug so many gaps.

That would naturally point to another Laois victory, but mindset wise, I know it’s strange to say, Armagh may be at an advantage.

Laois have had to plan for a match they have already won while ‘Geezer’ and his team have been afforded the opportunity to stay in the Championship and turn their season round which I know they will relish.

Even though it looks a foolhardy decision based on misplaced loyalty rather than footballing facts, do not be one bit surprised if Armagh are facing Clare in the next round of the Qualifiers.

Can I also take this opportunity to dispel totally the rumour that I have been approached to be the next England manager after Roy Hodgson resigned this week after their humiliating defeat to the minnows of Iceland as I could not possibly take the reins of a country that got booted out of Europe twice in the one week.

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