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18 May 2006 Edition

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The Matt Treacy Column - Hubris is an awful man

And the award for the Most Embarrassed Supporters of the Year (so far) goes to - cue drum roll - those Louth people who were boasting last week that not only would they beat Meath but would probably win the Leinster title. Camoflagued by faces that were now uniformly the same colour as their jerseys, they were to be seen sidling out of Croke Park quite a while before the final whistle.

There is a theory, that Arthur Morgan may ascribe to, that the Louth team who played in the first half last Sunday were actually replaced at half time by a team of clones in a bizarre experiment to ascertain whether visitors from the Orion Nebula could adapt to the pace of championship football. If true, the experiment must be adjudged a failure.

Alternatively, it may have been a cunning plan to launch an entirely new approach to Gaelic football, in which one team decides not to score at all in the second half. Again, perhaps not the cunningist of plans.

Seriously though. It was a most bizarre match. Louth started as if nothing could go wrong for them. Their forwards were running an inexperienced Meath defence ragged and were popping over points from all angles. Meath, as always, were up for it, but the worst predictions of Royal pessimists appeared about to be fulfilled.

While some of the Louth players left the pitch at half time waving to the crowd, the Meath lads headed towards the dressing room in a sombre but determined mood. You would have to say that appearing to celebrate even a little bit at half time is just too tempting for the fates. Hubris is an awful man.

Meath outscored Louth by 1 - 9 to nothing in the second half, the killer blow being landed by Joe Sheridan who pawed the ball past Reynolds for the game's only goal. In truth Louth looked as though they had thrown in the towel even before that. Eamon Barry will be worried about some of what happened in the first half but will be pleased that they have overcome a potentially tricky opener and will now be seriously eyeing the Leinster title.

Not that Louth people were the only roseate cheeked punters last Sunday. I had decided that Limerick were a cast iron certainty to beat Tipperary in the first round of the Munster championship, and invested accordingly. I should have listened to my father's warnings about dead ancestors gyrating in the North Tipperary soil. And now not only will Ciara be tackling the guinea pig for her breakfast all week, but I will be keeping a weather eye on ghostly Whiteboys coming to exact revenge.

What mainly messed up the 4/5 on Limerick was that man Eoin Kelly who finished with 14 points. But it was far from a one-man show. Much of the talk before the match had been about the weakness of the Tipp backs and this seemed to be confirmed when Begley and O'Shaughnessy easily beat the full back line for two early goals. I was already mentally counting my winnings. That old hubris again.

After that the Tipp backs hurled out of their skins. A tribute to their tenacity and courage was the fact that not one of them was taken off. Indeed after Limerick's second early goal they only conceded another four points from open play. A remarkable statistic no matter how you look at it, and one that would have had you locked up for a want had you suggested that this would have been the case at around 2.15 last Sunday.

Babs was naturally pleased and there is now a school of thought that he pulled off a massive 'psy-op' by spreading the illusion that he thought that his players were as bad a bunch of players ever to pull on a Tipp jersey. Well if there were mind games, then the wily old codger won them but probably more so within his own panel than in spreading complacency in Limerick.

Certainly hard work on the training pitch cannot explain all of the improvement that came over Tipperary last weekend. Publicly slagging off your players, as Babs has done on more than one occasion, is a risky gambit. Anyone who has ever played will be used to being taken to task within the relative privacy of the dressing room or in training, but generally speaking team managers tend to observe the taboo against sharing such thoughts with the general public. Crossing that line was one of the factors that led to the loss of confidence in Tommy Lyons when he was with Dublin, and indeed Babs himself when in a previous incarnation he compared Offaly to a "heap of sheep".

This time it may have worked. Not so long ago he was telling anyone who cared to listen that Tipp were dead. All that remained was for the corpse to be washed. Now, Lazarus like, they have risen from their death bed and put an end to Limerick's dream of a Munster title, or at least of a Munster final.

Elsewhere, Offaly disposed of a Westmeath team that was bereft of ideas and largely bereft of scores in the absence of Dessie Dolan. At Clones, Monaghan did their best to emulate their victory over Armagh in 2003, and did lend further credence to the belief that Joe Kernan's men may be entering their declining years.

Always a dangerous thing to say, and they have had a habit of starting slowly in Ulster, but they just don't look the same. No Francie and other old timers in unfamiliar roles and with seemingly little in the way yet of a younger generation to take up the mantle. Write them off or bet against them at your own peril but they will be nothing like 2/7 or 1/4 next Saturday.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1