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Meath's meteoric, magical rise to a maiden All-Ireland senior crown as Dublin fall on the big day

The Royals lifted the Brendan Martin Cup for the very first time after a rollercoaster journey.

1. Meath’s meteoric, magical rise

First year back in the senior ranks. First top-flight final. First Brendan Martin Cup.

Meath’s fairytale story hit stratospheric levels in Croke Park this evening as they were crowned All-Ireland senior champions for the very first time.

meath-celebrate-with-the-brendan-martin-cup Meath celebrate with the Brendan Martin Cup. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Ending Dublin’s Drive for Five, this was unquestionably one of the biggest upsets the game has ever seen — and arguably the greatest turnaround in Irish sport.

Just six years ago, in 2015, Cork condemned Meath to a 40-point demolition in the All-Ireland senior championship qualifiers. One of a raft of hammerings as they hit rock-bottom — Dublin were 18-point winners the last time they met in 2016 — they requested relegation to intermediate level that 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 recently 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 did this 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.

2. A rousing Royal performance

This was a complete team performance, and the better, hungrier-looking and more energetic side won a thrilling encounter.

Led by the incredible Vikki Wall, who was named Player of the Match, with 19-year-old Leaving Cert student Emma Duggan and fellow sharpshooter Niamh O’Sullivan other standout performers in attack, Meath were so impressive all over.

Their tried-and-tested system worked a treat for them once again today, so well-drilled and organised defensively, while counter-attacking at speed and with mayhem.

vikki-wall-and-sinead-goldrick Vikki Wall facing Sinéad Goldrick. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Like Armagh, Cork and others who went before them, Dublin found it hard to crack the code, and, in truth, never really did. Meath certainly frustrated them and stopped them from unleashing their attacking, free-flowing running game.

With 13 in their own half at all time while defending, the Royals were excellent in turning Dublin over and comfortable in retaining possession. Emma Troy and Aoibhin Cleary really stood out in that department, while midfielder Máire O’Shaughnessy put in a monster shift.

Fitness and conditioning proved key, and Meath certainly put the pedal to the metal for the 60 minutes, always keeping cool and composed heads, even when frustrating decisions went against them.

3. Dublin fall on the big day

A team that have so often turned it on on the big day, Dublin just weren’t at the races.

Hannah Tyrrell was one shining light, finishing with 0-7 (3f), but the former Irish rugby international’s first All-Ireland senior final appearance after her roller coaster 2021 will be one she’d rather forget.

Dublin were left to rue second-half wides and uncharacteristic errors, looking fatigued as they tried to crack Meath’s code. Usually, their bench power pushes them down the home straight, but that same impact wasn’t there today as several players carried knocks. Just 0-2 came from that department through Niamh McEvoy and Kate Sullivan, while many of their big-hitters kept a low profile and were nullified.

The midfield battle was one Lauren Magee and Jennifer Dunner were expected to win but O’Shaughnessy and Orlagh Lally came out on top, with Wall, Duggan et al motoring from the middle.

It’s hard to know what happens next with Dublin. Mick Bohan was extremely emotional in his post-match press conference, fighting back the tears as he noted: “I suppose today was the end of a road for probably half a dozen of that group.”

mick-bohan-with-his-team-dejected-after-the-game Dublin manager Mick Bohan with his team dejected after the game. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Sinéad Aherne, Lyndsey Davey, Siobhan McGrath, Niamh McEvoy and Sinéad Goldrick are among those on the road quite some time, while many are wondering if Bohan himself will go again after falling just short of the perfect five-in-a-row.

Up until today, they had been unbeaten in championship fare for the entirety of his second term, clocking 25 straight wins since 2017

Now, for the first time since 2004, the champions are not Dublin or Cork.

4. A Leinster clean sweep

With Wicklow and Westmeath landing the junior and intermediate honours earlier this afternoon, it was a Leinster clean sweep at HQ (five of the six teams in action today hail from the eastern province, junior runners-up Antrim the one exception).

In fact, it was a Leinster clean sweep overall this year, with the four Lidl Ladies National Football League titles also wintering in the province.

The Division 1 crown is in the capital, with Meath the home of the Division 2 silverware.

Joining today’s senior finalists in the Leinster top-tier championship next year will be Westmeath — and it’s a welcome change to have three teams in the competition after Dublin being there alone for quite some time.

Meath’s victory is absolutely massive for the game of ladies football and new champions are something that was probably needed. It certainly gives hope to other counties going forward, too.

About the author:

Emma Duffy

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