Moment of inspiration fires Meath

Mayo 1-11 Meath 2-9 Meath win by 15 points to 14
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The Independent Online
As befits Ireland's pre-Christian capital, the herbalist who manages Meath had tuned every muscle on his players for the battle to decide the All-Ireland final at Croke Park yesterday, and he would not allow his players to pull up their socks for the pre-match ceremony, in which both teams were introduced to Mayo's most famous native, President Mary Robinson.

Battle is not too strong a term for what happened next. With old scores to be settled from a drawn match two weeks ago, a feeling that the referee was a soft touch, and Meath's reputation as Ireland's toughest team to uphold, there was a sense of inevitability when a two-minute dust-up stopped the match after just five minutes.

If the referee had sent off all the combatants in this fray, the match would have been reduced from 15-a-side to three-a-side. As it was, there was an element of farce in the manner in which he called aside one player from each team almost at random and dispatched them. One of the unlucky pair was Mayo's star of the drawn match, Liam MacHale, who was immediately carted off to hospital with a suspected broken jaw.

As happens so often, one moment of inspiration decided the destination of the trophy named after Michael Collins's director of intelligence in London during the 1919-21 war of independence.

Graham Geraghty, an Arsenal trialist a few years ago, was fouled near the goal while driving forward for Meath, who were favourites to win this replay. As most of the 65,602 crowd paused for breath, Geraghty spotted his captain, Tommy Dowd, to his right, and took a quick free directly from his hands without placing the ball.

Dowd dodged a defender to score a goal and start a controversy which will keep fireside conversation going through the winter months all over Ireland.

Fielding and fisting the ball - as well as kicking it - are permitted under Gaelic rules. Goals are worth three points when scored in the net suspended below the crossbar of the H-shaped posts (as opposed to one point for over the bar), and usually decide the results of matches. The main inter-county competition runs from May to September with a two-week extension to cater for this year's replayed affair.

This one was a travesty, for Mayo deserved to win. They looked like doing so after P J Loftus scored the first goal of the game, but Trevor Giles responded with another Meath goal from an association football-style penalty.

Gaelic football is certainly a national game. The main stand in the stadium is named after one of the victims of the war of independence, when British soldiers massacred spectators at this venue.

There are no financial inducements for yesterday's heroes. Indeed, the Arsenal trialist gave his occupation as unemployed, and for most of the match, he was. However, his moment of inspiration would please Arsene Wenger.