Those of us lucky enough to have witnessed it will never forget July 6th 1991, the day that the titanic struggle between Meath and Dublin finally came to an end in front of a huge crowd at a sun-drenched Croke Park.
The third game was generally acclaimed to have been the best of the saga, with some passages of sparkling football and several outstanding individual performances.
The fourth game was fixed for Saturday July 6th with live coverage on RTE. Hysteria gripped the Royal County as the game became virtually the only topic of conversation.
Would McEntee start? Is McCabe on the panel? Is Kelly named? McEntee and McCabe were both included in the substitutes with PJ Gillic returning to midfield. Disaster stuck long before the ball was thrown in. Firstly, Sean Kelly failed a late fitness test and then a freak accident in the dressing rooms resulted in Terry Ferguson having to withdraw because of a pulled muscle in his back.
Tommy Dowd and Padraig Lyons were late replacements but incredibly, Lyons sustained an injury after only fourteen minutes. Finian Murtagh was sprung from the bench with Colm Coyle going back to defence.
Meath had started brightly with Brian Stafford scoring two points, the second after Colm O’Rourke was felled with a head-high tackle in the 5th minute. By half time Dublin had edged in front by 0-7 to 0-5 and were playing the more purposeful football.
With only 15 minutes remaining the boys in blue had stretched their lead to six points, the biggest gap between the teams in any of the four games. A goal from Brian Stafford kept Meath’s hopes alive, if only just, but with eight minutes remaining, Dublin, 0-14 to 1-8 ahead, were awarded a penalty which Keith Barr (getting to the ball just before Mick Lyons!) drove wide of McQuillan’s right hand post.
But Dublin, even without their most influential player, Tommy Carr, who had been forced to retire with a leg injury, still looked certain to win when Niall Guiden increased their lead to four points with seven minutes remaining. Four minutes remained to play when Stafford reduced the gap to just three points and that was still the difference when Martin O’Connell chased a loose ball towards the corner flag. Nine Meath players handled the ball in eleven passes before it arrived into the hands of Kevin Foley who dispatched it to the net in front of a stunned Hill 16. Truly one of the most amazing goals ever scored in the history of the GAA.
Moments later, with the Dubs still reeling, Liam Hayes and PJ Gillic combined to work the ball to David Beggy and the Navan O’Mahony's star brought Gaelic Football's greatest saga, which had begun over a month earlier on June 2nd, to a scarcely believable end.
Final score Meath 2-10 Dublin 0-15
The Meath team was: Michael McQuillan, Robbie O’Malley, Mick Lyons, Padraig Lyons, Kevin Foley 1-0, Liam Harnan, Martin O’Connell, Liam Hayes, PJ Gillic, David Beggy 0-1, Colm O’Rourke, Tommy Dowd, Colm Coyle, Brian Stafford 1-6, Bernard Flynn 0-2. Subs: Finian Murtagh, Gerry McEntee, Mattie McCabe 0-1.
First game Meath 1-12 Dublin 1-12
Second game Meath 1-11 Dublin 1-11 AET
Third game Meath 2-11 Dublin 1-14 AET