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# Meath Marvel
Royal Rising - from 40-point demolition to Cork to All-Ireland semi-final six years later
‘To come from that low, low point in 2015 to now, it’s something to be really proud of.’

shauna-ennis-mary-kate-lynch-aoibhin-cleary-katie-newe-and-maire-oshaughnessy-celebrate-after-the-game John McVitty / INPHO Meath players celebrating after their All-Ireland quarter-final win over Armagh. John McVitty / INPHO / INPHO

ROCK-BOTTOM. ONE of the lowest points in Meath ladies football history.

Cork 7-22 Meath 0-3, that August 2015 All-Ireland senior championship qualifier. It was played at Semple Stadium, Thurles, and broadcast on TG4. Pure and utter embarrassment, with plenty of eyes watching on. 

It was the first game 19-year-old Emma Duggan watched the Meath ladies team play. Máire O’Shaughnessy, last year’s All-Ireland intermediate championship winning captain, tuned in from New York, where she was on a graduate visa.

Today, the pair will play leading roles as the Royals look to reach their first-ever All-Ireland senior final just a few short years later — and in their first season back up in the top-flight.

Standing in their way in this afternoon’s Croke Park semi-final? Cork.

The Meath story is a fantastic one. Their journey to this point has been nothing but incredible. From heavy defeats in the senior ranks — that 40-point demolition certainly standing out — to requesting relegation to intermediate level after the 2016 campaign, and a rebuilding job from there. Under the watchful eye of Eamon Murray, they went on to reach the second-tier semi-final in 2017 and finals in ’18 and ’19 before making it third time lucky in December 2020.

Murray’s side have also risen the league ranks from Division 3 to Division 1, ending a seven-year wait for a top-flight return in June. It’s a fairytale story of sorts, but far from straightforward.

A remarkable rise, though not without its fair share of hurt and heartbreak; that 2015 hammering to Cork likely on the minds of those still involved in the set-up this morning.

A scan through the team-sheet from that day throws up a few familiar names: goalkeeper Monika McGuirk, star forward Vikki Wall, captain Shauna Ennis, dual player Megan Thynne, Sarah Powderly and Kate Byrne are among those still knocking around.

It’s something O’Shaughnessy spoke at length about ahead of the 2019 All-Ireland final; how a core group stuck together and that, combined with an injection of new faces and the belief of them all intertwined had been central to their climb through the ranks.

maire-oshaughnessy-lifts-the-trophy Tommy Dickson / INPHO O'Shaughnessy lifting the All-Ireland intermediate crown in December. Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

2013 was her first year on the team. “At that stage we were senior, we were competitive in Leinster, we were kind of putting it up to Dublin,” she told The42 two years ago.

“I think we were Division 1 in the league and we were playing the bigger teams. The hammerings hadn’t started at that stage. I played again in 2014 and I went to New York for a year in 2015.

“That was the real low point for Meath ladies. There was that famous match against Cork that was televised where they got an absolute hiding, God love them. That was the real downturn and that was the drop down to intermediate.

“When I first came in in 2013, it had started to go downhill. Hit rock-bottom in 2015 and we’ve just been building ever since.”

O’Shaughnessy kept a close eye on the team during her time across the pond, playing for Cavan Ladies herself and helping them to a New York championship title.

While she enjoyed Gaelic Park Sundays and the rivalry between teams in the Big Apple, her heart went out to her team-mates back home.

“You feel bad, like. I think when I left, Diane O’Hora had them at that stage. She’s not an easy woman to say no to! It was hard. It was just the group of girls, it had been that group for years. It was hard walking away from them for a year.

“I was keeping an eye on them at home. I actually watched the Cork match over there. My heart broke for them. They’re a resilient bunch. A beating like that would knock any team’s confidence, but they just kept coming back. I’m really happy for the girls that stuck at it, it’s worthwhile.”

That, it certainly has been. As she said herself at the time, intermediate championship was “no playground,” an extremely competitive grade which is really hard to get out of. 

Meath can certainly vouch for that after All-Ireland final defeats to Tyrone and Tipperary, before getting over the line against Westmeath last December.

Teenage sensation Duggan has been front and centre of their recent success, leading the scoring charge since her arrival to the scene in 2019.

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the-meath-team-celebrate-after-the-game Brian Reilly-Troy / INPHO Celebrate after June's Division 2 final. Brian Reilly-Troy / INPHO / INPHO

As she so often does, the Dunboyne star impressed against Cork in their group opener in Birr at the start of July. The Rebels won that tight, tense encounter by two points, and but Meath having a late goal disallowed, it could have been much closer.

They’ll take huge confidence from that, with no shortage of motivation needed to cause a massive upset and reach the All-Ireland senior final on 5 September.

Exhibit A: that 2015 hiding.

“I think that was probably the first game where I watched Meath ladies play,” Duggan noted this week. “It was on TG4. It probably isn’t one the girls would like me to remember.

“Before that Cork game [in the group stage this year], our manager mentioned that. It was like, ‘We’ve come a long way from that point, losing 30 or 40 points’.

“That’s a match to forget. For a lot of the girls, to have been part of a group that has come from that low, low point, to this point now, it’s something to be really, really proud of.

“If we were to get the win on Sunday – which we’re all really, really hoping for – it would be a massive day for Meath ladies football, and something that the generations behind us can look back on – unlike myself, who had that loss six years ago.”

That can be said again. No matter today’s result, the rise is sure to continue.

Whether that be in a first-ever All-Ireland senior final or in 2022, it’s always important to focus on the journey, rather than the destination.

And to never forget the low points that made way for the highs.

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