It's not peak-time for GAA content, what with Congress in the rear-view mirror and no on-field action for a while yet. 

We must turn, as we did this time last year, to All-Ireland Gold output. 

This time around, we're going back 20 years, to the inaugural back-door championship in 2001. 

In a nice turn, the first All-Ireland championship under the new format ended up being won, via the backdoor, by the only county to vote against its adoption at Congress.

What else? The Rossies lit up the championship and then allegedly lit up their rivals' jerseys. The Dubs headed off on tour, Hill 16 pitching up on the Killinan side of Thurles in one of the more famous games of the decade.   

We weren't to know it yet but it marked the abrupt end of Meath football's golden era, which ended in rather dismal fashion in late September.

'When you win you win, when you lose, you lose'

Scene in Clonmel on the first day of the qualifiers

As usual, we're in a time of flux and upheaval with regard to championship formats. We don't yet know what the 2021 championship will look like. The two-tier championship, like Home Rule, is on the statute books but on hold until the war is over.

There was a similar level of disenchantment at the turn of the century. Nowadays, we are preoccupied with the plight of the club player - or at least we were until the most recent Congress. Then, the dominant concern was the plight of the inter-county player, specifically those of the weaker counties, and all the training he was doing for one game a year. 

For a majority of players, the charms of the traditional knockout championship, in operation since time immemorial, were wearing thin. 

"From the outset, let it be emphasised that anything is better than the current system and its disastrous use of resources - both players and spectators," wrote Sean Moran in the Irish Times in August 2000. 

It's little remembered now but the back-door system, which is still in place in modified form, was in fact a compromise arrangement, cooked up after a far more radical scheme was shot down at Congress. 

A few years earlier, President Joe McDonagh had established the Football Development Committee, tasking it with the remit of brainstorming a more imaginative and satisfactory championship structure. 

It was chaired by former Clare selector Noel Walsh, with Eugene McGee, Colm O'Rourke and Pat O'Neill all on board. 

Their eventual proposals, leaked to The Star in November 1999, were startlingly radical. It was vaguely NFL-ish in its inspiration. 

It was a two-tier championship, the league was to be abolished. The 'A' championship was to consist of 22 teams, split in two along a North-South basis. These 'conferences' would run off on a league basis over 10 weeks from March to June. 

At the end of which, the top four placed Leinster and Ulster teams would play-off in the provincial semi-finals, the top two placed Munster and Connacht teams would contest their provincial finals and the All-Ireland would be played off as normal from there. 

While the GAA officials shuddered at the proposals, the players were said to be emphatically in favour. 

This didn't count for a whole pile at county board level or on the floor of Congress. Only eight county boards, a number which included Kerry and Dublin, indicated any favourability and the plan was dead in the water come March. 

Paraic Duffy has a word with Frank Murphy at Special Congress in October 2000

However, most delegates knew enough that the status quo was plainly unacceptable and hastily arranged a working group - headed up by future Director General Paraic Duffy - to table an alternative before a Special Congress in October.

What emerged was the qualifier system. This was more or less waved through at Congress that autumn. Only one county - Galway - voted against it and in favour of retaining the status quo. County PRO Jack Mahon, a member of the 1956 All-Ireland winning team, simply argued that watering down the knockout system devalued the championship, saying "when you win, you win and when you lose, you lose."

He acknowledged, however, the hopelessness of the cause, remarking that he was "standing in the dyke against the torrent." 

Kerry, though they voted for it, also expressed misgivings, albeit of a different sort. They favoured the original, and considerably more radical, FDC proposals.   

Of course, the eventual solution hit upon for the inter-county players' grievances would end up making life more awkward for the club player, a reminder that trying to grapple with the GAA's cluttered calendar is a 'whack-a-mole' affair and that in solving one grievance, one inevitably opens up another avenue of complaint. 

'Their supporters could and would devour you'

The total population of the Connacht football championship was down by 8 million in 2001 as the Foot and Mouth crisis forced London to pull out.

These were glory days for the province. After three decades of being the poor relation, occasionally scraping an All-Ireland final appearance when their champion met an even worse Ulster champion, Connacht was now arguably the leading province, at least in terms of the quality of matches and the depth and relative evenness of the competition.

The second half of the 1990s was a high-point in the history of the Mayo-Galway rivalry, with both now among the best teams in the country, playing a succession of hugely hyped knockout games in front of capacity crowds. Such was the interest, the increasingly antiquated Tuam Stadium had been barely able to cope with the crowds at the 1999 Connacht final, leading to complaints and a serious inquest on the evening Sunday Game.

By the end of the decade, the balance of power seemed to have shifted towards Galway. After Mayo's huffing and puffing in '96 and '97, it was Galway who swanned their way to an All-Ireland title in '98. Nonetheless, when the two counties contested the league final that spring - another show of western power - it was Mayo who won in a modest upset. It was assumed they'd meet again in the Connacht final. 

The Rossies, as is their wont, intervened. Roscommon had given Galway hell in '98 (helpfully quelling the hype in the latter's All-Ireland quest) but they'd misfired badly in the two subsequent years and in 2000, despite scoring three first half goals, they suffered a humiliating loss at home to Leitrim in the Connacht semi-final.

But ex-Galway player and manager John Tobin had taken over in Roscommon and as Ja Fallon later observed, "he knew all the Galway lads." 

Frankie Dolan celebrating with Roscommon supporters after their victory in Tuam Stadium

First half goals from Nigel Dineen and Frankie Dolan and a remarkable debut at midfield from teenager Seamus O'Neill powered them to a famous four-point victory, one which they celebrated with their characteristic wild abandon. 

"When we won, we celebrated and moved on quickly," John Divilly wrote in the Irish Examiner a few years back. "When they won, their supporters could and would devour you. It probably felt like winning an All-Ireland title to them. Outlandish comments and gestures often occurred. After defeating us in the 2001 Connacht championship, they were rumoured to have burned a Galway jersey outside a public house the following afternoon. Thankfully, this victory ritual didn't catch fire and go viral."

People weren't yet psychologically attuned to the implications of the new back-door system. There was, in hindsight, an unwarranted air of finality in the judgements on Galway that evening. They had "gone to the well, found it dry," according to Pat Spillane on The Sunday Game. Let them off and re-build and let the rest worry about the real players in this year's championship. 

Meathness unbounded

2001 was another of those years when Sean Boylan's Meath spent half their summer playing one team. 

In '91, it was the Dubs, in '97 it was Kildare who took them to the brink. And in '01, it was Westmeath, then making a burst for their first provincial title.   

Toying with defeat before staging an improbable late revival was part of their modus operandi in that era.

They pulled it off twice against Westmeath in that championship. Before Marooned and Páidí Ó Pacino and lads being exhorted not to get f****d over the line like a loaf of bread, Westmeath had made major progress under the management of Luke Dempsey. 

In 2001, they were a whisker away from making a serious breakthrough but Meath, as usual, were standing in the breach, stomping on their fairytale. 

In the Leinster quarter-final, Westmeath led by five points with 15 minutes left to play and Anthony Moyles had just been sent off. 

Needless to say, having one of their players ordered off was just the trigger they required for a revival. Late on, Ollie Murphy rustled up an opportunistic goal, a couple of points followed and Meath wound up winning by a point. 

Sean Boylan and Luke Dempsey embrace after the drawn All-Ireland quarter-final

Later on, after Westmeath had completed a rousing run through the qualifiers, the pair met in the All-Ireland quarter-final, where Meath mounted another of their all too familiar late-shows.

The underdogs led by seven points at half-time, helped by Dessie Dolan's lobbed strike/mishit point attempt which clipped off far post and wound up in the net, making it 3-07 to 1-06 at the break. 

Remorselessly, Meath ate into the lead, as Westmeath blew chances at the other end. With a minute left, Graham Geraghty won the ball, fisted a pass to himself, collected close to the end-line, funnelled a pass back to Ollie Murphy, who fired a shot away while off balance. The ball hit the roof of the net and Meath were level. 

They didn't leave themselves hostages to fortune in the replay, Magee and Geraghty plundering goals as they won by five. 

Sneaking out the back

"There's a buzz around Belfast that you'd normally only associate with the Ulster championship," cried Marty Morrissey in advance of the 9 June meeting of Down and Armagh. 

It wasn't quite the Ulster championship, however. The qualifiers kick-started on that date, with a round of matches mainly comprising Division 3 and 4 teams. 

The heavy drama wouldn't arrive until Round 3, the Croke Park double header on 7 July another landmark in a glorious year for the west.

Sligo proceeded to shock Kildare in the qualifiers

Galway, clearly still feeling their way into contention, built a substantial lead against Armagh, threw it away in a dramatic collapse - before snatching it back at the death. Leading 0-12 to 0-05 midway through the second half, they allowed Armagh reel off seven successive points to level the game. With momentum all going one way, Justin McNulty thundered out of defence,  his kick was blocked down by Michael Donnellon, who fed Paul Clancy and the wing-forward swung over a smashing point. The '98 champions had survived. 

Sligo, who for the guts of two decades barely did enough to count as also-rans, had emerged blinking into the light from '97 onwards. The previous year, they'd shocked Mayo in the final straight knockout championship before a rather undignified exit against Galway. 

But they continued to build, unlucky to lose by a point in Castlebar in the Connacht semi-final. It was assumed they were in over their head against Mick O'Dwyer's Kildare, who'd won two of the three previous Leinster championships.

Wearing their black away strip - and subsequently deciding to make it their home strip - Sligo attacked Kildare in waves, Dessie Sloyan landing 0-08 in a famous victory.

They bowed out honourably against Dublin at the last-12 stage, while elsewhere, Westmeath torpedoed league champions out of the championship.  Galway, continuing to blow desert hot and icy cold, struggled on. After racing into a 1-07 to 0-00 against Cork, they'd stumbled afterwards, eventually winning by four. Colin Corkery as usual decorating the game with a couple of spectacular scores.

"Overall, the new qualifier series continues to throw up impressive attendance figures," wrote Ian O'Riordan. "Last weekend's four qualifiers attracted 98,817 supporters, with 60,762 attending the double header in Croke Park, 23,000 in Roscommon for the Mayo-Westmeath game and 15,055 for the game in Clones between Derry and Cavan."

In the end, the GAA's income increased from €17 million in 2000 to €25 million in 2001, the gate receipts from the qualifier series accounting for almost half the rise.

The Big Dipper

Accounts of the famous game in Thurles are filled with tales of Dublin fans setting off on their Trip to Tipp, getting as far as Kildare before turning around, disheartened by the line of traffic.

Wiser Dublin supporters travelled via train

The Dubs had lost their third successive Leinster final. Tommy Carr had handed young goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton his debut in the early rounds but Davy Byrne was re-installed after returning from injury. The first choice keeper had erred in the provincial decider, fumbling an early high ball, allowing Graham Geraghty to pounce, stooping in to punch the ball home from close range. 2-11 to 0-14 was the score at the end. 

Though the Town End in Semple was the Dublin county board's preferred option, Hill 16 was ultimately re-located to the Killinan End. It was the first championship meeting between the two traditional kingpins since the 1985 All-Ireland final. 

For most of the game, Kerry seemed to have the matter in hand, leading 1-13 to 0-08 with 13 minutes remaining. On the line, Carr was a vein-throbbing ball of fury all afternoon, racing onto the field to give ref Mick Curley the hairdryer treatment after a contentious free was awarded to John Crowley.   

Vinnie Murphy, whose introduction in later seasons felt as much a theatrical gesture as a practical attempt to change the game, was central to the last quarter surge. The Killinan End euphorically greeted his trademark bout of shouldering with marker Tom O'Sullivan but his biggest impact was to come. 

He took a pass from Sherlock and expertly slid a shot into the far corner to narrow the deficit to four. Ciaran Whelan tore forward to land a stunning score and then Wayne McCarthy clipped over a rather shakily struck 14m free. With two minutes left, McCarthy's looping 45 was hung invitingly in the square, Darren Homan got a slap on it, the ball found the net and the Dubs led. 

The champions were in dire straits, Crowley blowing an easy chance to level it in injury-time. But they'd have another shot. Byrne's kickout found the sideline, Maurice Fitzgerald strode over, paid little heed to the Dublin manager's words of wisdom, and swerved over the famous point, the TV cameras capturing it's flight-path beautifully.  

Carr was still pumped up to the max and saluted the displaced Hill in a triumphalist manner afterwards. But the end of his reign was near. 

Tommy Carr salutes the travelling Dublin support

Pat Spillane, looking slightly shaken by Dublin's late comeback, was not excited by the prospect of Galway meeting Roscommon in Castlebar in the second leg of the double-header. 

"I feel like I've just had a ride on the Big Dipper and now I'm heading out on the lazy river," he said in his pre-match preview.

No day out in HQ

The other quarter-finals weren't much to write home about. There was immense dissatisfaction with the first ever All-Ireland football quarter-final draw, to the extent that the format was tweaked to prevent the 2001 scenario from happening again. 

Three of the four match-ups had occurred already - Meath-Westmeath, Derry-Tyrone and Galway-Roscommon - with two of the teams defeated at provincial level gaining handy revenge. 

The Rossies were particularly put out, not just to be facing a highly motivated Galway again so soon, but also by the location of the game.

MacHale Park hosting the Galway-Roscommon quarter-final

After beating Galway, they'd won a dramatic Connacht final "in a Hitchcock-like finale." David Nestor's injury-time goal appeared to have won it for Mayo before Gerry Lohan rifled a shot into the corner with practically the last kick. Hyde Park was hopping by the final whistle. They'd won Connacht but did they 'get out' of Connacht?

Though the Hogan Stand was by now a building site, playing at the shiny, new Croke Park was still a rare and novel experience for those outside Leinster. 

A game in nearby Castlebar against their big provincial rivals was deemed an unacceptably paltry reward for winning their first Connacht title in 10 years. In the event, the game was a stroll in the park for Galway, 0-14 to 1-05 the final score, with 1-02 of Roscommon's slim tally coming after the contest was effectively settled.

In the quarter, Ulster champions Tyrone, who'd overhauled a half-time deficit to claim the Anglo-Celt against underdogs Cavan, were soundly dispatched by Derry in a dreary low-scoring game in Clones.

A week later, Kerry didn't let it slip against Dublin, their form attacker Johnny Crowley banging home two goals in a 2-12 to 1-12 but their shaky form was about to be exposed.

'WAAAAAAAYYYY' - Meath fans late in the semi-final 

And so onto the semi-finals. Derry-Galway was a repeat of the '98 semi, when the Connacht side had waltzed to an easy victory. The repeat followed a very different path to the same result. Derry looked like winning for most of the contest, the imposing Enda Muldoon leaping and lashing home a superb first half goal. 

They led by five entering the closing stages but Galway were still in 'survive and advance' mode. O'Mahony's side gradually ate into deficit until a beautiful, sweeping move ended with Matthew Clancy firing a shot high into the top corner to put them in front. It was the defining score of the game. 

The second semi-final is undoubtedly the more remembered. It seemed to represent the high-point of Meath football and marked a dismal end to Maurice Fitzgerald's inter-county career. Kerry supporters were filing out onto Jones's Road with 20 minutes left.

John McDermott's early goal had given them a commanding lead, Kerry hanging in the contest by their fingernails at half-time, 1-06 to 0-04 behind. If the first half was bad, the second was disastrous. There was no let-up from Meath, who scored at will, substitute John Cullinane completing a 15-point rout with a late goal. The Leinster champions were practically conga-dancing their way into an All-Ireland final. 

Infamously, the closing stages saw the Meath crowd greet every perfunctory fist-pass with a gust of ironic cheers. 

Sean Boylan with Graham Geraghty and Ollie Murphy after their greatest display

Reflecting later after the final letdown, Sean Boylan insisted he was struck by an unmistakable pang of foreboding as he listened to the roars of 'WAAAAAYYY' reverberating around the ground near the end of the semi-final. Always regarded as one of the more shamanistic of managers, he felt in his bones it was bad karma.     

Meath's whimper 

The final itself was a bit of a flop. Galway were on for the double after their hurlers had stunned Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final. 

They were probably favourites for neither but the hurlers were regarded as close to 50/50 against Tipperary. The footballers, whose route to the final had been considerably more plodding and uneven than Meath's, were definite underdogs. 

Derek Savage wins the ball ahead of Mark O'Reilly and Paddy Reynolds

A big yard-sign around Enfield before the hurling final read - "Good luck today Galway but Sam is mine!!" 

Alas, it turned out to be the other way around. 

The first half was even enough, the sides tied at six apiece at the break. If Meath were relatively subdued in the first half, then Padraic Joyce - whose form hadn't yet hit the heights of the previous year - caught fire, lobbing over 0-10, five from play. 

Nigel Nestor's sending off had given Galway a fillip at 0-08 to 0-06. After Trevor Giles blasted a penalty wide at 0-13 to 0-08 - after a ludicrous decision to award it - Meath were plainly a beaten docket.

Galway tagged on a few more scores to canter home. 0-17 to 0-08 was the jarringly one-sided scoreline in the finish. The westerners' celebrations were, at least visibly, less giddily euphoric than three years before - but the players, as is usually the case, spoke of deeper satisfaction of claiming the second title.

Galway manager John O'Mahony celebrates after leading the county to another All-Ireland title

Both finalists retreated from the top table afterwards. That Galway generation, their hunger evidently well satisfied by the second All-Ireland, tagged on a few humdrum Connacht championships but achieved little more beyond that. By the end of the decade, they were in a slump of early 90s proportions and wouldn't win a game in Croke Park again until the 2017 Allianz League Division 2 final. 

Meath, meanwhile, retreated into mid-table mediocrity with even greater speed, failing to reach a Leinster final or raise any gallop in the qualifiers over the next three years. Boylan finally departed, after 22 years and with four All-Ireland titles, in 2005.   

20 years on, Meath, concussed after regular pastings from their big neighbour in Leinster, seem as far away as ever.