Rise up you Royals
From detours to hospital on All-Ireland final day to finding his way into behind-closed-doors training sessions, Christopher â€œHopperâ€ Rennicks fits the bill as a Hardcore Fan.
For a county with the tradition of Meath, the last decade or so tells a sorry tale. Since 2001, when they got the better of Kerry in a one-sided All-Ireland semi-final before collapsing against Galway in the final, Meath have failed to contest a single Leinster final.
The back-door route of the qualifiers has sustained them, but two All-Ireland semi-final appearances in the last three years could be more than a bit flattering.
Hope springs eternal, however, and Meath supporters will be happy enough with a ten-point win over Offaly last Sunday.
How good is Dublin? We donâ€™t know. They could be in turmoil
Christopher "Hopper" Rennicks was in Portlaoise â€“ he doesnâ€™t miss many county training sessions, never mind matches â€“ and he reckons there is room for plenty of improvement.
â€œI think we only had one back out of the six against Offaly,â€ he says. â€œAnthony Moyles was maybe the only one. Gary Oâ€™Brien played alright too but we let in a few sloppy goals and we'll need to improve a lot. Thereâ€™s no way Eoghan Harrington should have allowed [Niall] McNamee in along the end-line for one of Offaly's goals. Not a chance."
Goalkeeper is another problem, he reckons. â€œIâ€™d like to have Brendan Murphy back fit. The other man [Paddy Oâ€™Rourke] goes to ground very easy. I think he made a few too many mistakes last year to even get back in this year.â€
For all Meath supporters, the regular jousts with Dublin are the games that define the team more than any other. Even now, with Laois still to come in a Leinster quarter-final next month, Hopper has one eye on a possible battle with the Dubs in the Leinster semi-final â€“ even if heâ€™s adamant that the players donâ€™t take similar liberties.
â€œGetting a go against Dublin is the most important game every year. How good is Dublin? We donâ€™t know. They could be in turmoil too, so you never know what might happen there.
â€œBut we wonâ€™t look that far yet. We have to concentrate on Laois first. We did that two years ago against Wexford below in Carlow. We were six or eight or ten points up at half-time and then we were destroyed in the second half so as long as the team doesnâ€™t start looking too far ahead...â€
From looking ahead to looking back, and Rennicksâ€™s earliest memories of following the Royals are of the famous four-game saga against the Dubs almost 20 years ago.
â€œI was at the â€™86 semi-final against Kerry but I donâ€™t remember much of it,â€ he says. â€œMeath had a great team in '87 and '88 but my earliest memory of going to games is probably from â€˜91. Iâ€™ll never forget the four games against Dublin. I would have went with Paddy Finn. Paddy was a Monaghan man, from Nudie Hughes country. He drove a little minibus and there would have been eight or nine of us from Dean Cogan all heading up to the games.â€
Tommy Dowd going up to lift the Leinster Cup with a bloody eye after Keith Barr hitting him off the ball. That's my most special memory
All-Irelands have come and gone in the interim, but Hopperâ€™s most cherished memory is of a Leinster title.
â€œIâ€™m a good friend of Tommy Dowd. Tommyâ€™s wife and my wife had kids at the same time, and we had no car at the time. It was July â€™96 and I used to go back and forward to the hospital with Tommy. He was training away with Meath, and he was captain at the time. They were good aulâ€™ days.
â€œThe Leinster final that year, on a wet day in Croke Park, was my most special memory. Tommy going up to lift the Leinster Cup with a bloody eye after Keith Barr hitting him off the ball. Remember that? I know we won All-Irelands later but thatâ€™s the day that really stands out.â€
Later that year, Hopper would remember the All-Ireland final replay for reasons heâ€™d rather not. A car crash on the way to the game meant a detour to the hospital and a frantic search for lost tickets, but everything turned out well in the end.
â€œWe were in a crash on the way to the game,â€ he recalls. â€œA car pulled out of a junction at traffic lights in Finglas, we crashed and someone else ran into the back of us. Big Derek Smyth was driving and he had to be cut out of the car. He had back injuries. Pat Smyth had a broken leg.
â€œWe all had to head to the hospital in ambulances and people thought that the cars were so badly mangled that someone must have been killed. Poor Martin Smyth, who died there last year, he came on the scene and he nearly had a seizure, he thought we were all dead.
â€œAll I was worried about were the tickets. But Charlie Redmond was working in the fire brigade and he arrived to the hospital looking for the Meath supporters who were in the crash - he had the five tickets with him.
â€œWe made it in time for the game and all â€“ we wouldnâ€™t miss those games. Myself and the wife went on ahead because the hospital staff didnâ€™t want Pat to go. But we were standing in Hill 16 and we saw Pat being wheeled in in a wheelchair, broken leg or not!â€
For years, Hopper has planned his week around the Meath team.
â€œI go to most of the training sessions. Even if thereâ€™s a behind-closed-doors session Iâ€™d still get in some way. I used to bring the apples and oranges in under Sean Boylan. Theyâ€™ve trained in Dalgan Park, Gormanston, Dunsany, Dunganny, but theyâ€™re back training in Pairc Tailteann at the minute.
â€œIâ€™d be planning my week around Meath training. I wouldnâ€™t plan anything else on Tuesday nights and Thursday nights and Iâ€™d be watching out on a Saturday morning for the gates closing at Pairc Tailteann, and youâ€™d know there was a training session on.â€