Footage of a brilliant day in the history of Laois GAA from 29 years ago has surfaced online.
In the summer of 1992, the Laois footballers, managed by Offaly’s Richie Connor, headed to Navan to face Meath in the opening round of the Leinster championship.
At the time Meath were the bluebloods of Gaelic football; they were revered, feared and respected and had not only scaled the peak once but had camped at the top for a number of years.
Meath had been in four of the previous five All Ireland finals, had been back to back champions in 1987-88, had won five of the previous six Leinster titles and won the league twice. From almost nothing, Sean Boylan had built a dynasty.
But on this sweltering hot May day in front of a heaving crowd, Laois would dethrone the Leinster champions.
The championship was straight knockout then, there was no back door. Meath’s summer was ended there and then and Laois players recall Meath supporters telling them on the pitch afterwards that they had “ruined their summer”.
Given that Meath had played 10 championship games in Croke Park the year before in a season that ended with a narrow All Ireland final loss to Down and included a four-game saga with Dublin, to be out of the championship before June had even started was almost unthinkable.
Laois had been beaten 4-14 to 0-6 by Meath in the semi-final in 1990 and 1-11 to 0-8 in the Leinster final in 1991 but meticulous preparation and a well-constructed plan brought Laois’s finest day since the League win six years previous.
Laois won 2-11 to 1-11 and the day has many happy snapshots. Hughie Emerson at 18 years of age just weeks before his Leaving Cert wearing number 22, playing centre-forward and committing himself easily to memory because of that big bead of hair.
He was the AN Other on the match programme but by the end of the 70 minutes’ he was well known; Liam Hayes had been controversially dropped for the game but having come on for the injured debutant, John McDermott, got sent off near the end for striking out at Emerson.
Hayes was the second player to be sent off after Laois’s Joe Nolan was given his marching orders midway through the second-half.
Ten players were booked and an ugly melee broke out 20 minutes into the first half. Mick Turley came on at half-time and hit 1-3 and the crucial winning goal came from Laois ‘keeper Tony McMahon from a penalty after future Laois senior manager Sean Dempsey was hacked down in the square.
Meath led 0-5 to 0-2 at the break but went four points down after a tremendous Laois surge in the second-half.
Tommy Dowd scored a fine team goal in to the town end goal to narrow the gap to just one near the finish it and it looked as if Meath were to stage another of their remarkable recoveries. McMahon’s goal ensured they didn’t, however.
Twenty seven years on it remains arguably Laois’s finest win over Meath.
That they went and lost to Louth the next day out darkens the tale somewhat but it was still a great day and one that is fondly remembered.
You can check out the Sunday Game’s highlights package from the game below:
LAOIS: Tony McMahon (1-0); Tommy Smith, Martin Dempsey, George Doyle; Denis Lalor, Pat Roe, Eamon Lacey; Tony Maher. Michael Dcmpsey; Colm Maher (0-1), Hughie Emerson, John O’Connell; Michael Lawlor (0-3, all frees), Leo Turley (0-4), Joe Nolan. Subs: Michael Turley (1-3, 0-1 free) for O’Connell, Sean Dempsey for Lawlor.
MEATH: Donal Smyth; Enda McManus, Mick Lyons, Terry Ferguson; Kevin Foley, Alan Browne, Martin O’Connell (0-1); John McDermott, PJ Gillic; David Beggy, Brendan Reilly (0-1), Tommy Dowd (1-1); Colm O’Rourke (0-1), Brian Stafford (1-7, all frees), Bernard Fynn. Subs: Liam Hayes for McDermott, Robbie O’Malley for McManus, Colm Coyle for Beggy.
REFEREE: Tommy Howard (Kildare)