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Dublin's Drive for Five, a Royal rising like no other and an exciting new-look All-Ireland final

Will it be five-in-a-row chasing Dublin or fairytale newcomers Meath climbing the steps of the Hogan Stand?

tg4-all-ireland-ladies-football-finals-captains-day Dublin captain Sinead Aherne and Meath captain Shauna Ennis. Source: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

1. The excitement of a new-look All-Ireland final

A novel pairing, this is the first time Dublin and Meath will face off in the senior showpiece. With all-conquering Dublin chasing their fifth All-Ireland title in-a-row, the Royals are gearing up for their maiden senior final in their first year back in the top-flight.

A new-look All-Ireland final was something the game probably needed, given the Brendan Martin Cup has wintered either in Dublin or Cork for the past 16 years.

With a rare all-Leinster decider in store, the big question is can Meath go one step further and ensure their fairytale story hits stratospheric levels? Should they cause one of the biggest upsets the game has ever seen, new champions would be crowned for the first time since 2004.

Dublin, of course, are red-hot favourites, but at the rate Meath are going and in this, the year of the underdog, absolutely nothing is set in stone. Bonus territory. Nothing to lose.

We have no real form guide to go off when looking at the counties’ head-to-head records: the last time they met was in the 2016 Leinster senior championship; Dublin running out 18-point winners in that round-robin clash.

2. Royal rising like no other

Regardless of today’s result, Meath’s story to this point is unquestionably one of the great turnarounds of Irish sport. Should they hit that unimaginable height and reach the pinnacle later, it would arguably go down as the greatest.

Just six years ago, in 2015, Cork condemned them to a 40-point demolition in the All-Ireland senior championship qualifiers. One of a raft of hammerings as they hit rock-bottom, they requested relegation to intermediate level the following season, and a massive rebuilding job began.

Eamonn Murray’s side reached the second-tier semi-final in 2017, and finals in 2018 and 2019, before making it third time’s a charm in December 2020. They also climbed the league ranks from Division 3 to 1, with the county enjoying plenty of underage success and a strong club scene.

To others, that Meath are here may be a massive shock, but to those involved in this team brimming with belief, confidence and high standards, it’s the furthest thing from that.

“Maybe no one else was expecting this but we were,” as Vikki Wall said after their dramatic semi-final win over Cork.

3. Dublin’s dominance and Drive for Five

The Sky Blues have been largely untouchable in recent years as they elevated the game to new heights. They have a 100% championship record under Mick Bohan this term, winning 25 on the bounce since the 2016 All-Ireland final defeat. There’s no doubt about it, they’re the standard bearers.

While they haven’t exactly been setting the world alight this season, playing most of their games in second or third gear, Dublin’s dominance has still shone through. After collecting just a second-ever Division 1 league crown in June, they’ve navigated the championship without much trouble, and despite some injury setbacks.

dublin-players-celebrate-winning Dublin celebrating the 2020 win. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

They were without two of their stars in Carla Rowe — “possibly the best player in the country at the moment,” as Bohan remarked — and Niamh Collins for the semi-final, while the returning Sinéad Goldrick had been out up to that point. With Noelle Healy retired and Nicole Owens absent, former Ireland rugby international Hannah Tyrrell has been among those to step up and fill the voids. Their strength in depth is admirable.

As is the experience and know-how they have in abundance. They know how to get the job done, especially on the big stage, and there’s a feeling that their biggest performance this year could be yet to come. They’ll want to etch their names into history in style.

4. How the game will unfold

It should be an intriguing one, to say the least. Meath’s system is something that has been talked about quite a lot this year.

“Very different to anything I’ve seen in the women’s game before,” as Bohan said earlier this week, they play an interesting brand of counter-attacking football, with their half forward line dropping to form an organised blanket defence, before they all break at speed, and with mayhem.

Extremely well-drilled and remarkably fit, it’s incredible to watch when that happens, though they opted to go ultra-defensive against Cork. They’ll likely go even more so against Dublin, hoping to counter their more attacking, free-flowing, running game.

One concern for the Jackies in their semi-final win was some uncharacteristic unforced errors, particularly in the forward line. If Meath can capitalise on those, they’re in with a big shout.

meath-celebrate-after-the-game Celebrations after Meath beat Cork in the semi-final. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The midfield battle could be a pivotal one, though, with Lauren Magee and Jennifer Dunne’s physicality unrivalled in the Dublin engine room. Máire O’Shaughnessy and Orlagh Lally are challengers this time around.

The general consensus is Meath will put it up to Dublin and ask serious questions of them with their system, but the champions love to pull away down the home straight with their bench power a huge advantage.

5. The man in the middle

An interesting story line going into this one is how the game will be refereed, given the ongoing rules debate and recent calls for change. It’s something that’s been under the spotlight through the summer, and that’s sure to continue on the biggest stage.

With no shortage of eyes on HQ, it will be interesting to see how the afternoon pans out for the man in the middle, Brendan Rice.

There’s no doubt about it, Dublin push the tackle to the limit — and that’s been seen time and time again in their highly physical contests through the years. Staying disciplined and keeping 15 players on the pitch will be paramount for both sides this afternoon, and for Down man Rice, it will be about finding a fine balance between having his hands tied by the rule book, while also letting the game flow and ensuring it’s a good spectacle.

Here’s hoping for an entertaining contest between two of the country’s top, and best-coached, teams, with new life breathed into the championship this summer and potential for another great rivalry to unfold.

- Throw-in 4.15pm, live on TG4.

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About the author:

Emma Duffy

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