Hopefully all the players who represented Meath in the MFC in 2021 will go on to fulfil their potential. Photo: David Mullen / www.quirke.ie ©John Quirke Photography.

Jimmy Geoghegan: Gaping gulf remains between optimism and reality

On Wednesday of last week the Leinster Council announced details of upcoming fixtures in the various provincial competitions such as the minor and u-20 hurling and football championships.

For this correspondent at least the draw brought back memories of one of the most memorable GAA games of 2021, in any grade - the All-Ireland MFC final between Meath and Tyrone. What excitement. What drama unfolded as the engaging contest went to injury time before a winner could be found when St Colmcille's promising youngster Shaun Leonard popped over what proved to be the winning point.

That was one day to gladden the hearts of the Meath GAA followers. Another victory to raise the hopes that Meath might be on the way back as a major force in Gaelic football once more. A victory that appears to have represented, to some at least, a concrete sign that we are heading, headlong, in the right direction.

The All-Ireland success - added to some other notable triumphs in recent years such as the resounding win over Dublin in the 2018 Leinster MFC or the victory over Offaly in the 2020 Leinster MFC final (played last summer) - has seemingly convinced some that the Royals are putting down a firm foundation for future success. Yet we should thread carefully here.

Underage success doesn't translate to trophies on the table. Never has, never will. We all know that but a few victories at underage level can understandably cloud reality; provide a warped perspective.

When it comes to young players and their line of progression nothing is guaranteed. There is a huge gap between say, underage football and the senior grade - especially since the minor grade moved back to u-17 level. So many highly talented young players are lost to the GAA along the way. They get diverted in one way or another and don't blossom into the kind of players they promised as youngsters.

Some find success too early. Some get worn out by the constant demands. Whatever the reason, it's one of the real tragedies of the GAA, of sport, of life, when promise is unfulfilled.

How often have we seen youngsters light up a playing arena only to find out a few years later they have disappeared off the scene; the rich promise as transitory as a shooting star.

In recent times Meath GAA have sought to take steps to hold onto players by setting up development squads. It's a laudable move but in sport, and life, nothing is certain.