September 13, 1991
Mick Lyons King of Fullbacks
"Dublin had another obvious flaw: they lacked a Lyons tamer: In this generation the goalkeepers got their Magna Carta: now they cannot be challenged inside the small box. There is no law which says that Mick Lyons cannot be challenged inside a certain area, but it seems that way" - Con Houlihan in the Evening Press on the Monday evening after Meath's victory over Dublin in the first round of the Leinster Championship. Someday, some student or sports psychologist will produce a thesis on Mick Lyons' supremacy over various Dublin full forwards. It will make interesting reading. In this year's unforgettable four match saga, the Meath full back played literally out of his skin: his displays were as good, if not better than he has given throughout his long and illustrious career. How many Dublin full forwards did he face and how many scored? Such was the intensity of the exchanges and the excitement of the occasions that it would take a super statistician to come up with the correct answer, but rumour has it that it was eight full forwards and one point. They are a remarkable brace of answers and they certainly go a long way towards explaining Meath's survival. And there's more. In the last eight Leinster Championships, Meath and Dublin have faced each other on ten occasions. Dublin have won only two of the ten games and on both occasions Mick Lyons was missing through injury.
Back in 1974 he was awarded Summerhill's "Young Player of the Year" Award and five years later he made his Championship debut for Meath, against Kilkenny in Pairc Tailteann at centre half back. He will be making his 42nd Championship appearance on Sunday. Meath have always produced exceptional full backs. Paddy "Hands" O'Brien was named in the No. 3 jersey on the team of the century, Jack Quinn was also regarded as one of the greats, while the late Boiler McGuinness also had a big reputation. They were difficult acts to follow, but the Summerhill man found himself at home on the edge of the square. Like O'Brien and Quinn, he found his way there via centre field. It wasn't until 1984 that he and he colleagues experienced any degree of success, but victory over Monaghan in the Centenary Cup competition proved that Meath had the makings of a decent team. Then disaster struck. The full back broke his wrist in a local Championship game and Dublin took full advantage of his absence by retaining the Leinster title. But two years later, and with Lyons safely restored to fitness, the Leinster Championship was won after a sixteen year gap.
Fate, as if often does, took a turn which became a significant landmark in Mick Lyons' career. Navan O'Mahonys, the reigning County Champions, were thrown out of the 1986 competition for refusing to fulfil a fixture. Summerhill, who might have won the Championship anyway, had their task made a great deal easier by the O'Mahonys defection. And at that time the champions supplied the captain of the Meath team. The honour fell to Lyons for the 1987 campaign. It turned out to be a master stroke by the Gods. All through the successful campaign he proved to be an inspirational leader, showing total commitment both on and off the field. One particular incident will always remain in the memory of Meath's supporters. Cork were shaping like winners against a lack lustre Meath side in the opening stages of the All-Ireland final and Jimmy Kerrigan soloed from the mid-field area through the centre of the opposing defence. On and on he went towards a goal-scoring position. Thousands of Meath hearts moved swiftly towards their owners' mouths as the Corkman prepared to shoot. However, the Cavalry, in the shape of the Meath full back arrived just in time and with a somewhat suicidal, but beautifully, executed full length dive he blocked Kerrigan's effort. His colleagues got the message and minutes later, Beggy put O'Rourke through for the goal which set Meath on the road to victory. Mick Lyons climbed the steps to become Meath's first All-lreland winning captain in two decades. Significantly, he thanked his club for making his moment of glory possible. He has always been a loyal and dedicated clubman. When a coaching video was produced by the GAA in the following year, his blocking of Kerrigan's shot was used extensively as an ideal example of good defending.
"I wouldn't be surprised to hear that there are small boys in Dublin who believe that Mick Lyons is kept in a cage above in Summerhill and fed with raw meat. In fact, Mick is as mild a man as you could find in the world outside football. His main fault on the pitch is that, at times, he is reluctant to turn the other cheek. Nevertheless, a section of Dublin's followers have appointed him as Public Enemy Number One."
"Many people think of Mick Lyons as a hard man - I think of him as a footballer, first class" Con Houlihan again.
They may not realise it, but the small section of Dublin supporters who gather behind the Railway goals to hurl abuse at Mick Lyons are foolish beyond belief. The taunts provide him with greater motivation. The more genuine breed of Dublin supporter admire him, somewhat grudgingly, and wish that some of their players would show the same commitment. But commitment alone does not make a great footballer. There are qualities about Lyons' play which make him a player apart. His high fetching, anticipation, distribution and blocking capabilities are often ignored by those who tend to believe that his high ranking is based on physical presence. Add strength, guts and bravery. Mick possesses all three in abundance. It makes for a tremendous potion.
Mick is the older brother of Padraic, who will miss Sunday's final because of an injury sustained in the early stages of the fourth game against Dublin. The brothers toured Australia with the Irish team in 1986. Another brother, Terry, plays full back for Summerhill and their father, Paddy, lined out with KILDARE in the 1949 Leinster Championship against MEATH. Centre half back, Liam Harnan, is a first cousin and soulmate.
Various activities have been seen at headquarters over the years, professional boxing, rock concerts, athletics and commemorative pageants among them. But Irish Dancing? In 1988, Charlie Redmond blasted a last minute penalty over the Meath bar when Dublin needed a goal to draw. And I swear, Mick Lyons performed a beautiful jig. Or was it a hornpipe ?
Taken from Hogan Stand
13th September 1991
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