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'My family all said, 'You should leave now on a high'' - Meath's mastermind

Eamonn Murray and his side are going for back-to-back All-Ireland senior titles this weekend – and he won’t rule out calling time afterwards.

Meath manager Eamonn Murray celebrates with Niamh O'Sullivan after their All-Ireland semi-final win over Donegal.
Meath manager Eamonn Murray celebrates with Niamh O'Sullivan after their All-Ireland semi-final win over Donegal.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

MEATH LADIES FOOTBALL manager Eamonn Murray is always one for a few good yarns.

He’s talking about the buy-in amidst the glittering Glory Days for the team of late, when a few recent stories spring to mind ahead of Sunday’s All-Ireland final showdown against Kerry.

“It’s not just the county,” Murray smiles. “No matter where my kids go in holidays… I’ll give you an example. Last week, one of them was in Toronto and a local team asked her to train them.

“It wasn’t planned. When they heard where she was from, the biggest thing that ever happened them. They were all such big fans of Meath Ladies.

“The other one was down in Limerick, and they heard where she was from — buzz, buzz, buzz, it’s great.

“I think we have done an awful lot for ladies football. Maybe we didn’t get enough recognition for it. I thought we should have got a little bit more but we didn’t.

“We could have got something, like a thank you card or something,” he adds with a laugh.

Those daughters are two of four, all “obsessed with the GAA”. They surely had their say when the Boardsmill clubman’s family offered him advice as he considered his future at the helm after last September’s monumental All-Ireland win. 

It was a magical journey for Murray and co., the Royals lifting the Brendan Martin Cup for the very first time after their debut final appearance in their first year back in the senior ranks.

It came after well-documented rebuild for the county, a three-year push for intermediate glory and a rise through the league ranks.

“It would have been very easy to walk away, for us all,” Murray concedes. “I had a lot of discussions among my own family. They all said, ‘You should leave now on a high.’

“I said, ‘I’d never do that.’ I said whatever is best for Meath ladies, I’ll be doing it and I warned them, I said if you don’t want me there, I’ll not make a fuss, I’ll walk away quite happily. I have 18 years with them now, involved with them for 20 years.”

Going out on a high “would be easy,” the Cavan native stresses as he reflects on the aftermath of last season. Though he is conflicted, all the same.

“That would be a very bad thing to do wouldn’t it? It wouldn’t be nice. And it would be very easy for the players to do. We didn’t have one player leaving really off the first 15, which is amazing.

“A lot of teams, especially after winning intermediate and junior All-Irelands walks away. Down done it. Kildare done it Leitirm did it, but these girls are an ambitious bunch and the bond they have is probably more important than winning.”

emma-duggan Emma Duggan is one of the stars of this Meath team. Source: Tom Maher/INPHO

Life as defending champions has felt a lot different for Meath this year, Murray nods.

“We probably expect far too much from ourselves. We’re never going to go out every week and play like the All-Ireland final. That’s the last game people remember from last year. They don’t remember the tough games we had. They all think we should be able to do that every week. That’s never going to happen.

“This is our sixth big year in-a-row. Our fifth All-Ireland final. So we’ve been going flat out for years. What’s probably nicer too this year is that certain players… a lot were writing off Emma Duggan. We gave her a few weeks off training, she was tired. Did her the world of good. Look at her now, one of the all-time greats. She probably took over in the last three games.

“Three strange games. A draw, a point win and a two point win. So tough. I wouldn’t expect any different. I think that Galway team are an awesome team. Then we came across a very good Donegal team. We were probably a bit lucky. We are fast learners in Meath.

“We just pick one match at a time. Have never discussed winning All-Irelands. Just discuss playing Kerry. We haven’t mentioned winning All-Irelands this week – and we won’t. It’s just go out and play the next game.”

Wearing the mantle of champions is a challenge for any team, the hunter becoming the hunted with a massive target on their back. Some do so lightly, others struggle.

What about Meath?

“We always tried to tell them all year, you are from a very humble place. Most are from little country clubs. Keep that underdog thing in your heads. Don’t listen to what anyone says. People like Emma Duggan having to do interviews, but God she’s taken it on well. Shown no fear. A lot are still very young.”

“I keep telling people, ‘Go and watch us,’ they are always exciting,” Murray later adds. “It is like the old Meath lads team years ago. You might have lost by a point but by God you enjoyed it. The people that don’t go and watch it, they are the losers.”

tg4-all-ireland-ladies-football-finals-captains-day Meath and Kerry captains Shauna Ennis and Anna Galvin at yesterday's All-Ireland final media day. Source: David Fitzgerald/SPORTSFILE

Murray admits he enjoyed last year much more than this one. “The first time is always different, exciting and that. This year, you almost have to win every game. Imagine losing it before you get to a semi-final? And then when you get to the semi-final, you think, ‘Wouldn’t we just love to get to the final, just one last shot at the final?’ and we did that.”

As he speaks, there’s a sense that this may be the end of the road for some of the group. The Last Dance. For now, anyway.

Vikki Wall and Orlagh Lally are heading for the AFLW, Emma Troy is moving to Australia, other players will undoubtedly follow them out the door.

Meath’s incredible backroom team, headed up by Paul Garrigan and highly-regarded strength and conditioning coach Eugene Eivers, will also see turnover, Murray reveals.

“There’s no such thing as year to year,” he says. “I know most of the coaches are leaving, they’re moving on. Will I stay or not? I don’t know. I won’t tell anybody until after the match or a week after, we’ll see what happens.”

The entire focus is on 4pm in Croke Park on Sunday, the Royals facing an exciting Kerry outfit in a new-look final.

While the Kingdom are back at this stage for the first time since 2012 and hoping to end a 29-year wait for glory, Meath are eyeing back-to-back.

“Ah, it would be very special, my God, not many teams can do it,” Murray beams.

“I know Dublin and Cork and Kerry did it, I think that’s the only three that ever did it. So it’s up to us now. We’ll give it our best shot and see what happens.”

BTL 5

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Emma Duffy

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