1996 All-Ireland football final replay – Meath’s golden day

Today (Saturday, October 1) sees the replay of the All-Ireland senior (Gaelic) football final take place.

Dublin are attempting to win a fourth title in six attempts while Mayo are trying to lift the Sam Maguire Cup for the first time since 1951. Twenty years ago, Mayo came very close to attaining glory, losing to Meath after a replay, and it is the sartorial events of 1996 that we will look at here.

Both counties have predominantly green jerseys, Mayo with a red hoop while Meath’s is trimmed in gold (yellow really, but that colour is called amber when Kilkenny wear it, saffron when it’s used by Antrim or Clare, and primrose if describing Roscommon). However, despite Meath having lined out in their alternative jerseys when the counties met in a national league quarter-final earlier in 1996, the only concession towards a colour-clash for the biggest game of the year was the Royals wearing green shorts:

(You’ll note that both teams had the same sleeve design. Unimaginatively, manufacturers O’Neills called it the ‘Three Vs’ style)

Mayo nearly won, but a fortuitous late point by Colm Coyle – a delivery to the goalmouth which was allowed to bounce over the crossbar – secured a draw. The replay was set for a fortnight later, but in his Sunday Independent column the week after the drawn match, former Meath star Colm O’Rourke made plain his dissatisfaction with the colours issue, believing it to have caused confusion:

Let’s start with the jerseys. It’s hard to credit that Meath and Mayo played the most important game of the year without a change.

In the ’88 All-Ireland semi-final, Meath wore gold and Mayo red, the second colours of both team. As recently as the league quarter-final in Roscommon, both sides changed [sic – Mayo didn’t]…so why not last Sunday? It beggars belief.

It is a major issue which people who have not played at this level might be unaware. Players react instantly to a splash of colour, particularly with peripheral vision; they notice someone coming in from the side and a strip on a jersey or a change of togs is not enough to make for instant recognition.

I did not hear any Mayo player complain, but [Meath’s] Tommy Dowd said he made a mistake, passing to Pat Holmes when he thought it was Barry Callaghan, while Colm Coyle knocked the ball away from John McDermott on one occasion when it was obvious he figured him to be one of the opposition.

Any near clash of colours should bring immediate change. In the semi-final meeting of Kerry and Mayo, again the colours were much too similar and alternative strips should have been automatic.

For the second game, Meath took the field in their change jerseys, a reversal of the normal pattern. In his autobiography Misunderstood, Meath player Graham Geraghty mentions watching the replay as part of his research for the book and being surprised to hear on the commentary that both sides had been asked to change jerseys for the replay but Mayo refused to do so.

Mayo did change their shorts, incidentally, but that only amounted to a striping difference and the crest swapping sides with the O’Neills wordmark.

The game will always be remembered for the early brawl which resulted in sendings-off for Meath’s Coyle and Liam MacHale of Mayo, who had been the man of the match in the drawn encounter. His loss affected Mayo and Meath triumphed. At the time of writing, Mayo are still waiting.

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