Toher: 'Parts of Meath are die hard hurling'
By Cian O'Connell
Meath’s Allianz Hurling League Division 2B campaign didn’t exactly go according to plan. Three defeats in five matches had Meath scrambling around searching for answers ahead of the summer.
Momentum has been generated by the Royals in the Christy Ring Cup with Meath posting victories over Wicklow, London, and Kildare to secure a much coveted berth in Saturday’s decider against Antrim.
“We knew if we performed we would be there or thereabouts with any of the teams that were there,” is James Toher’s assessment.
“The problem was just making sure we were consistent in our performances. Probably we fine tuned the things that had went wrong earlier in the year. The management and players become in sync, we knew the routine, and everything kind of fell into place at the right time.
“Any later would have been too late, any sooner might have helped us in the league, but I suppose it was better to happen towards the end of the league and Championship.”
Now Meath enter the final respectful of Antrim’s quality and quietly encouraged about how their own campaign has unfolded.
Being ‘complete underdogs’ suits Meath just fine according to Toher. “Absolutely, all of the pressure is on Antrim,” Toher commented. “In our eyes and in a lot of people's eyes we are complete underdogs and rightly so. Antrim have been competing at a higher level than Meath for as far as I can remember.
“So we just have to go out to do our best and hopefully our performance will be good enough. Hopefully we will give Antrim a good rattle, but make no mistakes about it Antrim are a quality team no matter who is playing or where they are playing.
“They will have an edge on us with experience on bigger days in Croke Park and things like that with the Cushendall boys and everything else that comes along with it. We will be looking at us first and hopefully it will be enough, but we have no qualms about us being complete underdogs.”
Toher reckons that operating in a televised fixture at Croke Park provides a drop of hope for the future of hurling too in Meath. “We have been knocking on the door for a long time,” Toher said. “With the law of averages you probably would have broken through at some stage by now already, but for some reason or another we have fallen short.
“It is probably a little bit frustrating because we have been in so many league finals over the last number of years. We were in three with Cillian Farrell as manager and we just fell short every single time.
“It was probably frustrating because we had bet the teams that won it earlier in the league or teams that won Christy Ring we bet them earlier in the year. Obviously there has been development, we have reached the final, but at the same time we have been knocking at the door for long enough now that we were bound to get there eventually.
“For future development you'd be hoping that young lads seeing the game on TV, lads you'd see around the pitch that come over asking you questions about this, that, and the other that it might inspire them to pick up a hurley a bit more often. That it is a viable option for you and not just football.”
Glimpses of Meath’s hurling promise were evident in previous decades with the March 1995 League win over Wexford, who claimed Liam McCarthy 18 months later, still fondly recalled. “Parts of Meath are die hard hurling, it is all out hurling,” Toher admits.
“Clubs from Meath have competed well in the Leinster Championship, Kilmessan have competed very well in the Leinster Championship in recent years.
“I know what you're saying with families and roots and things like that, but there is a small bit of a legacy within Meath itself.
“I know it mightn't be as well known in an awful lot of places, but in parts of Meath it is do or die. That is it, you'll do anything for the stick.
“The fact that we are the first team ever from Meath to get to the Christy Ring means there is already a good bit of a buzz.
“You'd be hoping that if we win we could break into the Leinster Championship to properly compete with the next tier of teams which would maybe develop the county. It would maybe get us back to like the time we were competing with Wexford.”
The Meath hurling journey continues; national silverware is the prize this weekend.