Graham Geraghty (Meath)
GERAGHTY was a funny one. He probably wasn’t that well liked, he’d have been seen as this controversial type of figure, but I had no problem. My father was from Meath so maybe that helped, but Graham was a great player.
He was different, the type of fella who you’d have loved to have on your team, and that’s no disrespect to the guys we had. He was a match-winner on his own and, often between himself, Trevor Giles and Ollie Murphy, they won a lot of games for Meath.
I came up against him a good few times, most notably in the 1999 and ’01 Leinster finals and the Leinster semi-final in 2002, and he was always a serious handful – quick, brave, very good in the air. At the time the game was becoming less about high balls into the square and more about quality ball into the forward line.
I was quite decent in the air so if a high ball came in, most forwards wouldn’t really challenge you for it and you’d come out clean. But I remember in that ’99 Leinster final, which Meath won by a few points [1-1-4 to 0-12], they just hammered in high ball.
Initially I was thinking ‘this is great’ but then I went up for a couple of balls and expected to come down with it, but Geraghty was right up there with me. He wouldn’t have been as big as me but he had an amazing spring. Neither of us won it but I came off the pitch thinking ‘that’s a serious player’.
He was very good on the ground too - a couple of times I raced with him, thinking I had him, but he’d always beat me there. Once he got a yard I just couldn’t catch him.
We had a great battle in the ’01 Leinster final too, which they eventually won [2-11 to 0-14]. Geraghty got a goal in the first two minutes, a high ball came in and neither of us went for it, the sun was in our eyes, I stepped out of the way to let [Dublin goalkeeper] Davy Byrne catch the ball, next thing I heard a roar – Davy had dropped it and Geraghty palmed it to the net.
After that, I probably got the better of him. He got very frustrated… there were a couple of off-the-ball things then. A couple of times I dragged him at the right time, got out in front and beat him to the ball and he was raging. He was constantly going to the referee saying I was mauling him, that sort of thing.
He was doing the same to me but I was probably just a little bit cuter on the day. Sometimes if you didn’t get your retaliation in first you could be in trouble. There was one ball I won over his head which drove him demented - he actually ended up getting a yellow card for dragging me down.
Some forwards would be a bit sneaky, hitting from behind or tripping, but I didn’t find that with Geraghty at all. He just hit you straight on. When he got the ball he’d run straight at you which, when you’ve a fella that fast, with that much athleticism, you were wondering how you were going to stop him.
In 2002 we beat them fairly comprehensively [2-11 to 0-10], we came in as underdogs after just beating Wexford in the quarter-final. We probably balanced each other out that day, but I was playing with the team that was on top and that makes a massive difference.
Meath were beginning to go off the boil at that stage, Geraghty was a bit isolated, and once we stopped him the other fellas were starting to drift away and he was getting frustrated. The sting might have been going out of him.
In the first half there was a bit of off the ball stuff between us, the ball came in across the square, both of us could have gone for it but we went for each other instead and I put him on the ground, picked the ball up and ran off. He just didn’t have the same go in him afterwards, I don’t know why. The mighty Meath were falling at that stage and we were just starting to come good.
While all this was going on, I got to know Graham during the International Rules camps and the Railway Cup. Despite his public persona, I found him a thorough gentleman. I used to have my dinner with him sometimes after training and he was a different type of character but one I liked and admired.
There was no bullshit with him, he said whatever he thought and, in turn, he wasn’t too bothered about what people thought of him. On those kind of panels you’d have had fellas going round trying to be everyone’s friend, but he would just be his own man. Take it or leave it.
If you didn’t like it, so be it, but I always had a bit of a soft spot for him.
Steven McDonnell (Armagh)
AROUND 2002 Meath were dropping off and Armagh were starting to come good. They beat us by a point in the All-Ireland semi-final that year, I’ve never watched it but I knew after we could and probably should have won.
McDonnell did a lot of damage that day, I was only marking him for a bit - I was mostly on Ronan Clarke - but I ended up on him in the qualifier in ’03 and playing International Rules with him.
It’s amazing when you get playing and training with fellas in that kind of environment because you get to see things as they are really. A match is only a snapshot, but I was so impressed with Stevie over in Australia - his attitude, how hard he worked.
Like Geraghty he was quick, very good in the air for a fella who wasn’t the biggest, and he had great hands. For Armagh’s way of playing, with that diagonal crossfield ball, he was the perfect player because he was always out in front and never, ever fumbled.
It didn’t matter if he was taking a bouncing ball at pace, on the run, it stuck. I always took the approach that I’d be so close, if a fella fumbled from a crossfield ball like that, I’d be on top of him. But Stevie would do it all in one motion, and then he was very good off either side from that point.
Even if you did manage to win possession, you would never get out easy – they’d be thumping you all around the place. I loved that about Armagh. It was real manly stuff, no spitting or knees into the back, just real hard physical stuff. McDonnell, Marsden, Paul McGrane, these guys would wallop you, bone-shaking tackles, but if you were big enough to take it you were fine.
Honestly, I enjoyed that. You wouldn’t be able to breathe for about 10 seconds, but you’d be walking around letting on you were grand.
One other time I marked Stevie was up in Enniskillen in a Railway Cup game. They just had the better team on the day and I was so angry. He was getting good ball and popping over scores – I couldn’t get near him. It was one of those days when we were a little bit off, the Railway Cup could go like that. I wanted to take the head off him but I couldn’t get close enough!
I got to know Stevie better last year when we were both involved with Burren in Down, and he’s a really decent fella. A solid, good guy and great craic.
One night we were showing the Burren lads something, talking about a ball coming in and how you receive and it and retain possession - I was saying to the boys ‘this is the fella who did it best’.
Niall Sheridan (Longford)
WE played Longford in the 2001 Leinster Championship at Croke Park and before the game I was quite worried about Sheridan. I knew he was big, good in the air and for a fella who you might have thought would be slow, people told me to be careful, he’s actually quick for a big man.
I was nervous beforehand but we just got on top, and I was playing with a team that was stronger than Longford [Dublin won 2-19 to 1-13], so it was easier for me. They did launch two or three missiles in on top of us, he had three or four inches on me, he was physically much bigger and stronger so I decided I was just going to break it.
Once I saw the ball leaving somebody’s boot and it was coming in, I just took five steps back then ran and ploughed right through with my fist. He didn’t catch anything.
We played them again in a qualifier down in Laois in 2004. I wasn’t playing great, but he was really good that day and he caused me a lot of hassle. They got some decent ball into him and he caused a lot of bother.
Off the field he’s a shocking nice fella, a couple of years ago he asked me to come down and help out with the club he was with at the time. We had a good chat for about an hour, going back over the good old times.