Monday 6 February 2023 Dublin: 2°C
# Talking Points
Meath's remarkable comeback and incredible rise, Dublin's Drive for Five, and a final to savour
The 2021 TG4 All-Ireland senior championship finalists were decided on a huge weekend at Croke Park.

1. Meath’s remarkable comeback

With around one minute of normal time on the clock, Meath were six points down. Cork had one foot in the TG4 All-Ireland senior championship final, and it was shaping up to be a sixth decider meeting with Dublin in eight years.

Stacey Grimes won a penalty and stuck it. Three points in it, just like that. But surely Cork, the most successful team in ladies football history, would see this one out.

With 35 seconds left, Emma Duggan made sure they didn’t. The 19-year-old sensation, just weeks after completing her Leaving Cert, forced a massive turnover alongside her Dunboyne clubmate — and equally excellent — Vikki Wall, as Cork fumbled around at the back. Duggan punished accordingly, slotting home the levelling goal and sending the game to extra-time.

Ice in her veins. Never say die, as the scorer of 1-5 showed.

As the hooter sounded at the end of the 80 minutes, it was fitting that she would score the insurance point which rounded off the unlikely comeback, and monumental 2-12 to 2-10 win which saw Meath into their first-ever All-Ireland senior final.

2. Royal rising a fairytale story

One of the great turnarounds of Irish sport, Meath’s incredible story makes yesterday’s win even more impressive.

This is their first season back in the senior ranks after a rollercoaster journey over the past few years. In 2015, Cork condemned them to a 40-point demolition in the top-flight’s All-Ireland qualifiers. After requesting relegation to intermediate level the following season, a massive rebuilding job began. They reached the semi-final in 2017 and finals in 2018 and 2019 before making it third time’s a charm in December 2020.

Eamonn Murray’s side have also risen the league ranks from Division 3 to Division 1, ending a seven-year wait for a top-table return in June, while the county has also enjoyed plenty of underage success.

To others, this might have been a massive shock or upset, but to the Royals it was the furthest thing from that. Duggan spoke about their belief, high expectations and standards, in an interesting piece with The42 last week. And Wall’s post-match interview with TG4 after the game echoed those sentiments:

“Maybe no one else was expecting this but we were.”

cork-v-meath-tg4-all-ireland-senior-ladies-football-championship-semi-final Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE Meath celebrate after the game. Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE / SPORTSFILE

3. What went wrong for Cork?

Their late collapse and lack of game management, ultimately, but there were plenty of warning signs. Their 2021 championship was far from convincing with big improvements needed for the semi-final.

Up to the 58th minute or so, those came, despite some massive blows. Orla Finn was a notable absentee; one of the best forwards and free-takers in the country ruled out before the game before injury; while they lost influential leader Ciara O’Sullivan to a shoulder setback nine minutes in.

Eimear Scally was one who certainly stood up on the biggest stage, posting 1-6 in a Player of the Match-winning display — announced by TG4 before Meath’s brace of late goals in normal time. The one blot on her copybook was a spurned late free-kick, a gut-wrenching moment for herself and the Rebels.

Manager Ephie Fitzgerald was non-committal on his future after the final whistle, though there was a feeling that 2021 would be his last go.

4. Dublin’s Drive for Five hums on

Saturday’s semi-final was less dramatic and more straightforward as four-in-a-row champions marched into an eighth successive final after a dominant five-point win over Mayo.

Mick Bohan’s side — who have won every championship match they’ve played under his stewardship this term, a record stretching back to the 2016 All-Ireland final — got the job done and saw off the battling Green and Red, having always kept them at arm’s length.

The 1-17 to 2-9 victory was their 25th straight championship triumph.

hannah-tyrrell-celebrates-with-her-partner-sorcha-turnbull-after-getting-married-on-wednesday James Crombie / INPHO Hannah Tyrrell celebrates after the game with her wife, Sorcha, after getting married on Wednesday. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Without injured duo Carla Rowe and Niamh Collins, Dublin went about their business in third gear, with Player of the Match Hannah Tyrrell and Sinéad Aherne scoring 0-5 each and Caoimhe O’Connor chipping in with their only goal.

While Bohan hailed “the older lemons” — Aherne and Lyndsey Davey, in particular — afterwards for their clever game management, he may be concerned by some uncharacteristic unforced errors, particularly in the forward line.

But that’s nothing that can’t be worked on for a little under three weeks’ time.

5. The rules debate and calls for change continue

After Dublin and Mayo’s highly physical contest on Saturday, it was inevitable it would come up in the post-match press conferences.

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Bohan, who has been vocal on it all of late saying that the rules “aren’t fit for purpose,” discussed matters at length. Hitting back at former Mayo boss Peter Leahy’s claims that his side are “cynical,” the Clontarf clubman aired his considerable frustrations and made some interesting points in a gripping monologue.

Refereeing inconsistencies have also under the spotlight recently.

Mayo boss Michael Moyles said he was “disappointed at times” with some decisions. “The rules are the rules at the moment and we try to play to them to the best of our ability,” he added.

Meath’s Duggan shared that opinion last week. “It’s a controversial topic,” she told The42. “It can be frustrating at times. The ladies game, it’s not a physical game, it’s non-contact.You have to roll with that.

“As teams are progressing — the ladies game is becoming a lot more physical and there has been massive development in S&C — naturally there is going to be more contact in a game.

siobhan-killeen-with-fiona-mchale-and-dayna-finn Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Siobhan Killeen gets away from Mayo. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

“At the moment, you’re having to play to the referee. Every referee has a different thing that they’re going to pull you up on, whether it’s steps, pulling a jersey, which is annoying because you have to change every game. It’s, ‘Girls, let’s watch out for this, let’s watch out for this’ for different referees. That part of it is frustrating, but there’s nothing we can do about that.”

6. An All-Ireland final to savour

A new pairing was something the game probably needed. The Brendan Martin Cup has wintered either in Dublin or Cork for the past 16 years.

With an all-Leinster decider in store, the big question is can Meath go one step further and ensure their fairytale story hits stratospheric levels? Dublin, of course, will be heavy favourites, but at the rate Meath are going, anything could happen.

Extremely well-drilled, they play a system that has worked a treat for them up to this point. Their half-forward line drops to form a blanket defence and they all break at speed on the counter-attack. It’s incredible to watch when that happens, though they opted to go ultra-defensive yesterday.

They’ll likely do the same against Dublin early on on 5 September, asking serious questions of the four-in-a-row champions, who like to play a more attacking running game.

As Bohan himself said ahead of Sunday’s semi-final, he’s been “very impressed” with Meath and sees them as “a serious threat going forward”.

Screenshot 2020-11-24 at 9.04.07 AM

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