Shauna Ennis celebrates with the Brendan Martin Cup. Tom Maher/INPHO
Royals Rule

Meath Magic, Kerry patches and what's next? - All-Ireland final talking points

Eamonn Murray’s side lifted the Brendan Martin Cup for the second year running yesterday.

1. Meath’s slow start to both halves

After seven minutes, Kerry were 1-2 to 0-0 up. Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh capitalised on a Meath kick-out malfunction and lobbed Monica McGuirk to raise the game’s first green flag, the Kingdom star forward previously adding a free-kick to Ciara Murphy’s opener.

The experienced Royals didn’t panic, however, responding accordingly with an unanswered 1-6. A ninth-minute goal from Emma Troy sparked them to life, with Stacey Grimes and Vikki Wall also making important contributions on the scoreboard.

The back-to-back champions trust their well-documented system, and they wrestled their way on top, exploiting the Kingdom kick-out with an aggressive high press.

Eamonn Murray’s side were 1-8 to 1-5 up and in control at the break, but Kerry cut the gap to the minimum shortly after the restart. Meath got over their rocky resumption however, well and truly cancelling out those points from Síofra O’Shea and Ní Mhuircheartaigh (free).

The latter’s effort was Kerry’s last score of the game in the 35th minute, as Meath went on to win 3-10 to 1-7.

2. Kerry’s patches

Declan Quill and Darragh Long’s charges endured two big scoring droughts in the game: 15 minutes in the first half after Ní Mhuircheartaigh’s goal, and most worryingly, the bulk of the second half. 

They finished the opening period strong with O’Shea, Paris McCarthy and Lorraine Scanlon all on target to stay in touch, but Meath moved into ascension at critical junctures.

Their shooting let them down at times, particularly in the second half. That said, Meath’s defensive structure most likely made their shot selection tricky and the Royals didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory in front of goal themselves at times.

Contesting their first final since 2012 and chasing a first title since 1993, Kerry’s performance was patchy, and a more complete display was needed from this free-scoring side to swing the pendulum in their favour.

niamh-osullivan-and-katie-newe-celebrate-with-the-brendan-martin-cup-after-the-game Niamh O'Sullivan and Katie Newe celebrate. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

3. Key players and big contributions

Niamh O’Sullivan was named TG4 Player of the Match, but there were several Meath players who could have taken the prize. Wall was a colossus, with half-backs Troy and Aoibhín Cleary both absolutely immense too.

O’Sullivan and Ní Mhuircheartaigh finished with 1-2 a-piece, both evergreen stars who have given so much to their respective county jerseys.

Wall hit three points, two of those important frees. Grimes did likewise. Emma Duggan, Meath’s scorer-in-chief, didn’t quite hit the heights she has before the posts in recent weeks but she added a free and enjoyed some other key involvements, while Bridgetta Lynch made her impact felt from the bench with the all-important third goal.

But this Meath team is not about individuals. The team performance is all that matters, and they produced a really impressive one when it mattered most. “Us Meath women know how to stand up and fight, and we surely did that today,” O’Sullivan told TG4 afterwards. 

Meath magic.

4. The woman in the middle

Some of referee Maggie Farrelly’s calls raised a lot of eyebrows, with frustration on show amidst the 46,440 Croke Park spectators at times. It all boiled over in the dying minutes, when Wall was sin-binned to a chorus of boos around Jones’ Road.

The 2021 Footballer of the Year saw yellow for consistent fouling, charging the last offence — a card comes after three ticks. But some of the calls were dubious and incidents ambiguous, 50/50 to say the least with the physical Dunboyne star often fouled herself.

There were no shortage of frees given, leaving it difficult for the game to flow at times.

vikki-wall-leaves-the-pitch-after-being-sent-off Vikki Wall leaves the pitch after being sent off. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

The issue, perhaps, is that Farrelly’s hands are tied by the rule book, and the fact that ladies football is technically non-contact.

That’s a battle for another day; a bigger picture issue, and a solution needed fast.

5. What’s next?

The big question. “You’re probably good enough to win three or four in-a-row but we won’t,” Murray said post-match. He has signalled the end of an era, of sorts, in Meath in recent days with Wall and Orlagh Lally AFLW-bound and the backroom team expected to go their separate ways.

Other player departures are imminent, one certainty Troy who’s also set to move Down Under for non-sporting reasons, while question marks remain over Murray’s own future.

Meath’s recent success has blown the ladies football landscape wide open, breaking the Dublin-Cork duopoly: this was the first time since 2002 neither team featured in the final, the counties previously sharing every title from 2005 to 2020.

They’ll undoubtedly be back all guns blazing after their shock quarter-final exits this season, while Kerry, Donegal, Galway, Armagh and Mayo are among those in the chasing pack.

As Meath showed best, anything can happen. Who knows what’s to come in 2023?

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