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Who are the main contenders to Meath's throne in 2023?

We assess the lie of the ladies football landscape next season.

CAST YOUR MIND back to the 2021 All-Ireland senior ladies football semi-final meeting of Meath and Cork.

The Rebels had one foot in the final, all but home and hosed, but the Royals struck two goals in the last minute to force extra-time in Croke Park. Buoyed by the unexpected lifeline, they pushed on in the added period, and we all know what happened thereafter.

meath-players-celebrate-at-the-final-whistle Celebrations at the final whistle after Meath's 2021 semi-final win over Cork. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

It was a spectacular collapse by Cork, who looked to have the game out of sight when they led by seven points after 55 minutes, with Dublin waiting in the final.

Who knows what would have happened had the script not been ripped up and the expected unfolded unfolded, but most would argue that the Sky Blues would have ran out five in-a-row winners, continuing their undisputed dominance. 

But now Meath are back-to-back All-Ireland senior champions, that Cork-Dublin duopoly well and truly broken. The Butterfly Effect.

The 2022 final between Meath and Kerry was the first since 2002 that didn’t feature either of the modern heavyweights. They shared every single Brendan Martin Cup from ’05 to ’20: Cork’s reign of terror — 11 titles in 12 years — was interrupted only by the Dubs in 2010, and they won four on the bounce from 2017 onwards.

Meath’s success breathed new life into the competition, and before a ball was kicked in the championship this summer, it was widely regarded as the most open in years.

That was then blown out of the water at the quarter-final stage, when Dublin and Cork both crashed out at the hands of Donegal and Mayo respectively.

2023 is quite some time away yet, but let’s assess the lie of the ladies football landscape and take a look at the main contenders to the Royals’ throne.

Frontrunners

shauna-ennis-lifts-the-trophy Meath captain Shauna Ennis lifting the Brendan Martin Cup. Source: Tom Maher/INPHO

Of the 12 counties in the running for next year’s senior championship, Meath are unquestionably out in front as things stand. Eamonn Murray’s side are back-to-back champions, having done the double this season.

But there’s change on the way on the Banks of the Boyne: Paul Garrigan, the coaching mastermind behind their success, has confirmed the end of his ‘magical journey’ with the team, with more departures from the backroom set-up expected. Vikki Wall and Orlagh Lally have opened their AFLW chapters Down Under, so uncertainty reigns over their involvement, while Emma Troy is another player due to step away.

There was a real sense that this year was The Last Dance for this group, but Niamh O’Sullivan, for one, is certain their success can continue despite the changes on the horizon.

“Oh yeah, 100%,” she told reporters after the final. “That’s why you have a panel of 38 girls… Meath are on the rise, that’s for sure. We won’t be going anywhere soon.”

Their well-documented system is ridiculously hard to play against, with very few able to crack the code. Dublin looked like they had it sussed in the Leinster final, triumphing on that occasion as their rivalry hit new heights through the league. They were never afforded the opportunity in championship, as the Dubs were sent packing in the quarter-final. Donegal certainly unlocked Mick Bohan’s side that day, but couldn’t get past Meath.

There could be change in the capital, with Bohan linked with a move to the men’s set-up and question marks hanging over several older squad members. Bohan signalled a changing of the guard after the 2021 final defeat — “The end of a road for probably half a dozen” — though all but Niamh McEvoy returned for more.

Who knows whether they will go again, and that could have a big say over Dublin’s status as real contenders or frontrunners.

nicole-owens-and-sinead-goldrick-celebrate-after-the-game Dublin duo Nicole Owens and Sinéad Goldrick after their 2020 All-Ireland final win. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Cork, who almost go hand-in-hand with them by now, could be another. Though someday argue having them as a potential frontrunner may be generous.

Shane Ronayne’s first season at the helm came to a disappointing close as their wings were clipped in the last eight by Mayo. They have a relatively young squad, well-built at this stage after some transition, and are always there or thereabouts, so a first All-Ireland since 2016 will be the target there. 

Chasing pack

Having Kerry in the chasing pack may be seen as harsh by some, given they were finalists this year, but it was their first decider appearance since 2012 after all and their wait for glory now extends to 30 years.

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They’ve made serious progress under Declan Quill and Darragh Long, and have set out their stall for 2022 already: “Our aim is to get back here again next year,” as the latter said just minutes after the final loss. He also spoke about Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh going again, the star forward in line for a 16th season, but there could be uncertainty over other experienced players. Rising star Paris McCarthy is one definite absentee, the young basketball ace heading to America on scholarship.

The chasing pack is always a fiercely competitive one: Donegal, Galway, Mayo and Armagh among those joining Kerry. They regularly feature in the business end, but will be hoping for a big breakthrough in 2023.

Donegal were close in ’22, but a first All-Ireland senior final appearance remains elusive. There’s an end of an era feeling there, though, with hints that a cohort players and perhaps even Maxi Curran himself may step away.

Galway pushed Meath all the way in the quarter-final, their hearts broken by a last-gasp Emma Duggan winner. They’re an impressive outfit with some really talented players, and if they stick together, the future is bright.

michael-moyles Michael Moyles led Mayo to the All-Ireland semi-final this year. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Likewise, for Mayo, who reached the semi-final despite several big-name AFLW losses. It must be said that Michael Moyles is building something special there.

And Armagh, led by Aimee Mackin, are always there or thereabouts. They’ll have to deal with the loss of her sister, Blaithín, to Australia, but on any given day, anything could happen for any of the above teams.

Outsiders

Nothing’s impossible, as Meath best proved. With Monaghan and Westmeath relegated to the intermediate ranks, Waterford, Cavan and Tipperary remain in the top flight.

They’ve struggled at times in recent seasons, but have also shown glimpses of real positivity.

Laois are the new team in, having recently landed the intermediate crown. They’ll focus on retaining their senior status first, but as we saw with Meath, they could make an immediate impact and shake things up.

Thought the 2022 championship was open? Wait until 2023.

About the author:

Emma Duffy

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